The central characters of Redtwist Theatre’s current production are a conservative male government leader determined to impose his laws on everyone around him and a radical young woman passionately driven to defy those laws as unjust. This is no up-to-the-minute new drama about abortion rights in America, but rather a Greek tragedy from the fifth century BCE: Antigone, the third part of Sophocles’s “Theban trilogy.” The cycle relates the ancient saga of the cursed family of Oedipus, the legendary king who unwittingly murdered his own father and married his own mother, fathering four children with her and unleashing a torrent of terrible events, including plague, a rash of suicides, and civil war.
Through 7/31: Thu-Sat 7:30 PM, Sun 3 PM; Redtwist Theatre, 1044 W. Bryn Mawr, 773-728-7529, redtwisttheatre.org, $40-$35
In Antigone, first performed in Athens in 441 BCE, the title character—Oedipus’s sister as well as his daughter—has returned to her home city of Thebes after her father/brother’s death in exile. The city is recovering from a war in which Oedipus’s two sons/brothers—Eteokles and Polyneikes, rivals for their father’s crown—killed each other in combat. Kreon, the brother of Oedipus’s wife/mother Jocasta (who committed suicide), has taken the throne and ordered that Eteokles should be given a hero’s funeral. But Polyneikes, Creon decrees, was a traitor and should be left unburied on the battlefield as carrion for wild animals to eat—a horrible fate and, in Antigone’s eyes, a sacrilege. She determines to give her brother funerary rites, knowing that she is—according to her uncle Kreon’s mandate—committing a capital crime.
The outlaw princess’s fanatical self-sacrifice transcends the deep familial devotion she feels toward her brother—and, by extension, the father/brother they shared. Antigone is a rebel searching for a cause. Her uncle Kreon provides that cause; his tragic error is to attempt to posthumously punish Polyneikes, rather than to try to heal the bitterly divided Thebans (including his own family) with a conciliatory fresh start. The results are disastrous—but also poetically powerful, moving, and thought-provoking in this fine piece of storefront Sophocles, performed in a lean, crisp 2015 adaptation by Canadian poet and scholar Anne Carson.
Director Christine Freije, making her Redtwist debut, states in her program notes: “I see her [Antigone’s] spirit in the revolutionary young people of our time, fighting for racial justice, climate change policy, gun control, and reproductive rights. She is adamant, unyielding, and strange.” That description certainly fits the performance of Isabel Alamin, whose sinewy physique, sharply etched features, blazing eyes, and electric intensity bring the title role to crackling life.
Brian Parry (who played Lear and Willy Loman in Redtwist’s earlier productions of King Lear and Death of a Salesman) is excellent as Kreon, the stubborn ruler who, trying to impose order on a fractured society, is unwilling to hear dissent from a woman—or from the young man who loves her, his own son Haemon, played by the earnest Nick Shank. Peter Ferneding delivers unexpected but not inappropriate comedy as the hapless guard who tells Kreon the enraging news that his policy has been disobeyed, and Sarah Sapperstein brings depth as the messenger who describes the story’s horrific outcome. And Andrew Bosworth anchors the show as the Chorus Leader—the embodiment of the citizens of Thebes, nearly crushed in the collision of extreme positions and personalities, who are left to pick up the pieces of a society broken by their conflict.