Friday night was the first time I had ventured to see a show by Theatre Coup d'Etat. I had heard only good things and their performance of Equus last season was honored at this year's Ivey Awards. Because of this I entered SpringHouse Ministry Center, where Antigone is being performed, with high expectations, and I was not disappointed.
This new piece, which is both adapted and directed by Meagan Kedrowski, brings these ancient characters to life with great clarity. The story of Antigone, the final chapter in the Oedipus trilogy, is one that most people are probably familiar with. Oedipus unknowingly kills his father and marries his mother. With her he has four children: Eteocles, Polyneices, Ismene and Antigone. After the truth about the relation between Oedipus and his wife/mother Jocasta comes out, Jocasta kills herself and Oedipus rips out his own eyes and curses his two sons to die at each-other's hands. Antigone begins with the struggle for the throne between the two brothers. In the end they battle, and kill each other. One brother, Eteocles, is given burial rights, while the other, Polyneices, is declared a traitor. The new King Creon declares an edict, that Polyneices' body shall rot at the gates of the city, and threatens death to anyone who might attempt to bury him.
It is here that the conflict starts, as the titular character Antigone decides to defy this edict; declaring the laws of the gods more important than the laws of man. Antigone's motivations come from her love for her brother whose soul is doomed to roam the earth unless he is buried. It could be hard to understand this bond since Polyneices dies at the beginning of the play but flashbacks throughout make the loss of Polyneices and Eteocles be felt by not only the characters but the audience as well.
Lauren Diesch as Antigone. Photo by Craig Hostetler.
Physicality was a major part of this performance, and it was both directed and executed with mastery. In a completely bare space the bodies on stage were required to provide all the drama and at times act as the set. The play opens with the fatal fight between the two brothers Polyneices and Eteocles. I have never seen fight choreography that was so intense, with bodies flying through the air less than 10 feet in front of the audience. The fight, directed by fight choreographer Adam Scarpello, almost felt as if it were part dance. This intentional choreography and movement was able to both clearly set the play in an ancient time and provide on the edge of your seat drama. This well orchestrated movement was not only used in fight scenes. In a later scene the bodies of the actors moved fluidly representing a cave wall and aided in the movement of the protagonist, Antigone.
Antigone is a play that is filled with tragedy and desperation. These feelings were brought out by all the central characters, and the actors representing them, in different ways. Antigone, played by Lauren Diesch, was desperate to give her brother rest. Ismene, played by Jayme Godding, was desperate to survive after seeing so many loved ones die. Creon, played by Brian Joyce, was desperate to rule Thebes with a steady and unwavering hand.
Underneath the many layers of character motivation and conflict there is a central question. Meagan Kedrowski describes it in her director's note, what happens when the justice system does not match up with morality? This is a question that we need to ask ourselves today just as much as Sophocles needed to ask it 2500 years ago. Theatre Coup D'Etat's adaptation and staging of Antigone does this with mastery, and I highly recommend you go and see it.
Antigone presented by Theatre Coup d'Etat is now playing at SpringHouse Ministry Center Fridays-Mondays until October 17.