CRT hones the craft of virtual theater with their new production of ‘Antigone’

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Antigone, April 1-11, 2021. Photo courtesy of Connecticut Repertory Theatre

The latest in Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s string of virtual pandemic theater productions is “Antigone,” the first of the ancient Greek dramatist Sophocles’ plays based on the family of the mythical Oedipus. The plot of “Antigone” is incredibly thin. Despite its two-hour runtime, very little actually happens. Most of the play is taken up by only a handful of passionate, drawn-out conversations between pairs of characters, and the events of the play never venture beyond the walls of the city of Thebes.  

While all of this may sound like a criticism, it actually ends up working in the show’s favor. Taking into consideration the limitations of the format, the play’s simplicity makes it easy to follow. Instead of having to balance a large number of cast members on screen at any given moment as in last semester’s “Men on Boats” or a wide variety of locations as in the recent “Pericles, Prince of Tyre,” the audience can spend more time focusing on the content of scenes alone without added distractions. 

The lack of complexity also means the show is able to experiment more with style and presentation. Of the CRT productions I have seen during the pandemic, this is the first one which doesn’t look like a Zoom call. Instead of being confined to small boxes, actors are superimposed over the screen at various sizes depending on role or prominence to the scene. The minimalist, shadowy backdrop over which the somewhat transparent forms of the performers are projected lends the production an eerie visual quality which only serves to highlight the grim tone and subject matter of the play. The opening of this production is beautifully rendered, taking full advantage of the new medium. 

The performance that stood out to me the most came from MFA student Michael Curry in the role of Creon, aided by the character being the most compellingly written in the play. The rest of the cast also does well in their roles, with Samantha Seawolf providing a passionate Antigone, GraceAnn Brooks as a supportive yet conflicted Isemene, Ethan Casso as an amusingly awkward sentry and Christopher Collier as a rebellious Haemon. 

As for the play itself, removed from the context of this particular production, I didn’t find it particularly strong. Being light on plot doesn’t necessitate a weak story, but in the end it all comes down to the pacing. If a story is paced well, it won’t matter if it takes place over the course of an afternoon or an entire lifetime; the audience will be entertained. In “Antigone,” each conversation drags on too long, taking what could have been a single act and stretching it into a full play. Most of the play’s action occurs all at once toward the very end, and even then it happens offstage/offscreen and has to be verbally explained to the audience. Having all information delivered expositionally does not make for compelling theater.  

The second half of the play mostly consists of a lot of yelling and dramatic monologuing, which can get tiring. Melodrama can sometimes work with the foundation of a strong narrative to back it up, but the weak narrative on display here means that the melodrama takes full control. Every emotion and situation feels so dramatically heightened that it’s easy for audience members to quickly lose interest and connection. 

That doesn’t mean that “Antigone” offers nothing for audiences to enjoy. The sequence between Antigone and Creon is by far the most interesting and well-written portion of the play, presenting two conflicting points of view with empathy and patience. This conversation provides the crux of the narrative, questioning (as director Gary M. English described it) the relationship between moral rights and civic responsibilities. The play also provides a fascinating meditation on the value of mercy and punishment in upholding justice, as well as the extent of family loyalty and obligations.  

In terms of technical difficulties, there were very few to speak of. Overall, the show moved along smoothly without a hitch. The only issues of note were the lag between video and audio (difficult to avoid using this platform) and volume inconsistencies between actors. I’m not sure if the latter was a flaw in the broadcast itself or a disparity with the individual actors’ setups, but hopefully this can be fixed for future performances. Thankfully, both of these were relatively minor and did not get in the way of enjoying the performance. 

“Antigone” will continue to run Wednesday, April 7, through Sunday, April 11. Tickets can be purchased on the CRT website, and the show can be accessed through a Zoom link. 

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