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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