(Cutting Ball Theater’s production of “Antigone” will play at The EXIT Theater at 277 Taylor Street through March 22.)
Members of Cutting Ball’s company spent several weeks this past summer studying techniques of movement and music at Teatr ZAR in Poland, the leading training school for the techniques of famed Polish director Jerzy Grotowski. They return to apply what they learned in Daniel Sullivan’s outstanding new translation of Sophocles’ “Antigone”. This was time well spent. The resulting production, under the direction of Paige Rogers, is indeed impressive.
When the company opened the story with a moaning, mysterious chant based on what is known of ancient Greek musical practice, accompanied by a precise occult vocabulary of emotionally evocative movements, I literally felt a chill run up and down my spine. This sensation occurred repeatedly in the course of the play, an experience as rare and memorable as a full eclipse of the moon, a meteor shower seen from a rural mountaintop, or a great opera tenor singing bel canto.
Simply costumed in basic black designed for movement, and barefooted, the cast tells the tragic story of Oedipus’ headstrong daughter on an empty stage with a bright white floor. It feels as if the audience is examining fundamental human emotions under the lens of a microscope.
This highly stylized performance is saved from any hint of affectation by Daniel Sullivan’s striking contemporary translation, idiomatic and perfectly accessible, and performers that do an excellent job of interweaving dance, vocalization and a naturalistic, contemporary rendering of the lines. It all combines into something quite new and quite riveting.
No, it is not perfect. Some of the vocalizing was more wonderful in its ambition than its realization, and much of the movement lacked the perfect synchronicity that might have achieved a level of catharsis well beyond what is accomplished. Theatre at this level truly requires many, many months (even years) of training and rehearsal, a luxury which Cutting Ball has not afforded this work. Although the company worked together on this production for nearly a year, that probably isn’t enough for this level of ambition. Still, it is a thrilling beginning and if the company continues working along these lines, they will eventually achieve something world class.
The story of Antigone’s principled defiance (she wants to bury her disgraced brother with the proper and respectful ceremonies) and her Uncle Kreon’s (ruler of Thebes) sentence of death upon the young woman is told with perfect clarity. Madeline H. D. Brown’s outstanding performance as Antigone is full of depth and conflict, confusion and insight, love and remorse, bravery and foolishness.
Jason W. Wong is a fascinating Kreon, proud and petulant, insightful yet stubborn. Mr. Wong’s naturalistic, very relaxed performance makes a startling counterpoint to the stylized production and works very well indeed. In his hands, the language and movement is fresh and contemporary. His work is well matched by Wiley Naman Strasser playing Kreon’s son (and Antigone’s fiance) Haemon. Their scene together, in which Haemon pleads with his father to reconsider the death sentence, is masterful.
The rest of the company is also outstanding, with particular compliments to Emma Crane Jaster who provides some delightful comic relief as a frightened but dutiful young soldier.
Jerzy Grotowski (whose theatrical vision inspired this company) once proudly described his most successful production as “an elephant walking a tightrope”. This “Antigone” may not be an elephant on a tightrope, but it aims high, and gives the audience glimpses of that promised land of perfection.
If such ambition excites you, go to The Exit and support Cutting Ball’s extraordinary vision. You won’t regret it.
For further information click here.
“Antigone” by Sophocles in a new translation by Daniel Sullivan. Produced by Cutting Ball Theater. Director: Paige Rogers. Scenic Designer: Michael Locher. Lighting Designer: Heather Basarab. Sound Designer: Cliff Caruthers. Costume Designer: Jason W. Wong. Music Directors: Aleksandra Koecka and Tomasz Wierzbowski.
Antigone: Madeline H. D. Brown. Ismene: Hanna Donovan. Sentry: Tim Green. Eurydice/Boy/Sentry: Emma Crane Jaster. Tiresias: Paul Loper. Haemon: Wiley Naman Strasser. Kreon: Jason W. Wong.
Charles Kruger is a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle.
Rating Guide: 5 stars=outstanding. 4 stars=highly recommended. 3 stars=recommended. 2 stars=watchable. 1 star=disappointing.
For a further explanation of the rating system, click here.
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