MU Theatre brings “Antigone” back to life

A tyrant, defiant in his rulings, wants to control his kingdom with an iron fist. A young woman stands defiant of him in doing what she believes is right. Chaos and calamity occurs when an error of ways is prophesized and realized in a man-made world of fire, blood and power alongside modern day values and technologies in Thebes, Greece.

At its core, “Antigone” is a literary tragedy as old as human history, and one that resonates even in real life on the heels of this most recent political season. In a timely decision by the University of Missouri’s Theatre Department, this archetype of epic tragedy is getting a revival at the Rhynesburger Theatre on MU’s Columbia campus.

Originally written by Sophocles, MU’s production of the Greek epic (translated by Anne Carson) runs from November 9th-13th.  However, this adaption of “Antigone” comes off as an uneven amalgamation of themes and ideas that don’t come together. It’s an unmixed garbage salad of great, good and so-so parts that seemed to have started with the intention of being a Greek-American melting pot.

This Greek tale follows Antigone (played by Leah Huskey) in her attempt to properly honor her brother Polyneikes (Matt Laughlin) after a recent war in Thebes. But Kreon (Garret Sauer), king of Thebes, demands Polyneikes be treated as a traitor, deserving nothing less than to rot in the desert. It’s a dueling conflict of ideologies, sanctity and one man’s power in the face of Gods; Firmly held beliefs about what is right and true power come to a head in epic proportions.

But while epic, many parts of this production don’t mesh as well as they should. For example, many of the costumes worn by the actors didn’t align with the time period or setting in ancient Greece. A guard (Steven Moore) looked out of place with his modern security uniform opposite Antigone’s traditional Greek garb. It was almost as if Carl Winslow was serving as night watchman of the Acropolis in 500 B.C. Additionally, Kreon ruled his kingdom throughout the show in a suit and made his first grand appearance to the audience wearing Aviator sunglasses. Although it properly presented Kreon as a stern ruler, he stood out in an odd way, appearing less like a wicked Alexander the Great and more like Milo Yiannopoulos.

As Antigone and Kreon oppose each other throughout the show, Huskey and Sauer do a stupendous job of drawing the audience’s fixation by acting defiant in the prospect of personal doom and standing as a cold, heartless ruler obsessed with his own power, respectively. In a particularly poignant moment when Antigone is facing imprisonment, Huskey runs back and forth across the stage in a fit of hysterics before dropping to her knees and realizing the bleakness of her situation. In an important moment for the audience offering sympathy to the likable and honorable Antigone, Huskey possesses them in the play’s most crucial moments.

Director Kevin Brown is also able to maintain the audience’s gaze with the help of punchy dialogue and well-paced plot movement. Through blocking characters into certain areas during scenes and having the chorus (Hannah Atencio) add commentary at appropriate moments, no character or scene feels overbearing and the show as a whole doesn’t drag or feel rushed. For example, Atencio would offer a brief monologue explanation of the play’s themes relating to the previous scene just before a new character would enter; she then would give the characters a brief introduction to the audience before they speak their first lines.

“Antigone” by MU’s Theatre Department features many diamonds in the dust, but doesn’t click together to make a good show into what could have been a great show. Perhaps another revival is what this production needs to give it’s fair due to the audience. Depending on your taste of garbage salad, this show is not stale, but it’s not completely edible either; only recommended for those who need a break from real-life turmoil of the news and the world.

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Good Kids – Casting and Staging Blogpost

Part I: The world of “Good Kids,” originally written by Naomi Iizuka, hits close to home, but feels like it can happen in any small town in the United States. These high school kids are alright, but everyone doesn’t seem to agree on whether certain kids are actually good at all. This modern real-life drama directed at MU’s Corner Playhouse by Carrie Winship shines a necessary light on the very dark topics of underage drinking, high school partying and sexual assault.

The script for “Good Kids” demands actors with strong personalities and acting abilities that can make their character personas come to life like they’re real people. It demands actors that can step into the shoes of very distinct personalities who each serve a unique spot in the narrative of the play, which the cast was able to do very well. For example, the role of Amber (played by Bridget Grojean) calls for someone who is able to stand tall on top of the metaphorical yet hierarchical high school food chain. Grojean, naturally tall and able to quickly add a tinge of pretentiousness in her voice when the scene calls for it, easily makes herself stand out on stage. In one instance, when Amber is discussing with some of the other girls who is allowed in at her upcoming party that weekend, her placement on an elevated part of the stage along with wearing high-heeled shoes allows her to stand tall and above the other girls who metaphorically, and in this instance literally, look up to her. Another stand-out in terms of casting came in the role of Deirdre (Sierra Ashton). Deirdre serves as the guiding light for the audience, leading them through the timeline of events of what had occurred around the night in question along with acting as the show’s moral agent when action is not occurring on stage with the main ensemble cast. She appears for the overwhelming majority of the play outside the realm of the actors while showing the audience certain scenes of the events through dramatizations and “fast-forwarding” and “freezing” time to make a point about the scene, event or state of the world. In this crucial role for the production, the casted actor needs to be able to promote an aura within the audience of someone with a strong moral compass, someone who passionately believes in doing what is right as well as being a generally knowledgeable and convincing leader for showing the audience the events of the play. Ashton’s prime example of accomplishing these goals comes near the very end of the play. After a scene showing adults and parents being interviewed by the media after the story is sent to major news networks and promptly “blows up,” Ashton openly responds to the audience about the adults answers that try to save the reputation of the guilty boys as much as they can. Ashton emphatically tells the audience that a poor girl is the victim of sexual assault, and all these parents care about is protecting the reputations of the perpetrators using soft words of defense. Ashton is emphatic and full of sympathy and remorse in her strong words, looking up into the stage lighting to give the audience a metaphorical glimpse into her soul. At that moment, reality hits and verisimilitude is reached when the line is blurred between Ashton’s real life thoughts and Deirdre’s character.

Inside the Corner Playhouse on MU’s campus, the stage is little more than a few elevated, wheelchair-accessible pathways and positions above the theater floor, along with a small stairwell. The backdrop of the stage consists of several projection screens used to show a video or still photo image called for in the scene. Certain screens near the very back are also used for projecting the shadows of certain characters off-stage so the actions of certain actors are highlighted. Given this small space to work with, the actors make the most of it given certain placements and direction during the performance. When the lights first go up to start the production, all characters appear throughout stage with the exception of Deirdre. In no particular order, each contributes an original line of dialogue that reflects their character’s personality and mindset about the play to come along with what it means to be a “good kid.” This exercise helps introduce the story and characters to the audience in a quick, snappy way by drawing their attention from actor-to-actor all over the stage like watching a rubber super ball bounce every which way. Especially since the actors fill the stage in each corner and area, each actor is given their own space that they dominate the audience’s attention whenever speaking. Later on, most of the ensemble cast appear sitting in chairs in the center of the stage space discussing the events and actions that happened after the party. During the entire back-and-forth, Chloe (Cassandra Ferrick) is seen near the back of the stage in a corner made by two projection screens, her back to the audience. She does not move or speak during the scene, almost making her invisible to a less-than-observant audience member. This lack of movement and speaking in this scene speaks rather poignantly in the regard that her character, much like other victims of sexual assault, are often rendered invisible and voiceless from the riff-raff of discussion that comes with cases like this.

Part II: Given such a delicate and contentious subject matter, director Carrie Winship is able to balance storytelling and character development on stage while highlighting the importance of discussing sexual assault in the public discourse in the minds of the audience. You feel as though you’ve been sucked into an average small town and learn the details of the case piece-by-piece alongside the actors.