UVSC’s ambitious season of interesting stage plays continues with a re-creation of a 1943 French adaptation of Sophocles’ tragedy “Antigone.”
The cast is small, and their voices almost echo as they traverse the sparse, multi-cornered, red-and-black set. It’s a hollowness that serves the play, as a smaller space might have made the dreary story seem too warm and intimate.
Set in Nazi-occupied France, the story is of Antigone (Heather Ferguson), daughter of Oedipus (yes, THAT Oedipus). Her brother has just been killed in battle, and her commander-in-chief uncle Creon (Robert Manning), who didn’t care much for the boy (“a rebel and traitor,” he calls him), has ordered that decompose in the street rather than receive a proper burial.
Antigone can’t bear the thought of this, and despite protests from her wishy-washy sister Ismene (Nanette Pawelek), she buries the body anyway. For her, there is no decision whether to obey an unjust law or to follow her conscience; she’s following her conscience, no matter what.
This leads to Antigone’s death. Thank you and good night!
You have to give the UVSC Department of Performing Arts credit for choosing a play that is not a crowd-pleaser, and whose appeal lies mainly in the bold performances from its leads. Heather Ferguson’s Antigone, described by the narrator (Tara Brewster) as a “dark, tense, serious girl,” is all of those things. Ferguson avoids melodrama and brings us real passion and intelligence in a role that could easily turn maudlin.
Robert Manning at first seems to be only generically evil as Creon, but as time goes on, we see more facets to him. He hardly seems evil at all, in fact; just narrow-minded. It is he who has the “fatal flaw” often spoken of in tragedy, not Antigone (it’s hard to think of moral righteousness as a flaw).
In theory, “Antigone” is supposed to make us think about the possibility of modern-day tyrants, and how we would react to them; in reality, that message doesn’t quite strike the heart the way it would like to. Nonetheless, as a showcase for some good acting and an opportunity to see in performance a play you may have had to read at some point, “Antigone” is a sophisticated, earnestly played theatrical experience.
Everything about this show, including the program, was made to look like it was being performed in Nazi-occupied France in 1943. There were even two "Nazi guards" who sat and watched the performance from the back of the audience, apparently to make sure no anti-Nazi sentiments were expressed. (They were, but the Nazis were too dumb to catch them. Stupid Nazis.)