ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Director Peter Shea Kierst has turned his attention to the ancient Greek dramatist Sophocles, adapting “Antigone” (441 B. C.) at The Vortex Theatre.
This production, presented in modern dress by a strong cast, is among the most accessible and moving Greek tragedies I have ever seen.
Kierst has set “Antigone” in the round, a modern rather than classical arrangement. Valeria Rios is responsible for the geometric design of angles and arcs that is rendered in tones of gray faux stone on the center acting area. Six aisles, like stone paths, cut through the audience to exits.
The play’s beginning is heavy with exposition that the original audience would know well. Antigone and Ismene are the daughters/sisters of Oedipus who unknowingly killed his father and married his mother. Oedipus ruled Thebes until he learned the awful truth, blinded himself, and left the city.
His sons/brothers Eteocles and Polyneices ruled together until they quarreled and Polyneices was forced out. Polyneices revolted and the brothers killed each other in combat. Their maternal uncle Creon took the throne and proclaimed that the body of Polyneices would not be buried but remain “a carcass for the dogs to eat.”
Antigone is determined to give her brother a burial despite Creon’s law. Much of the play revolves around the moral question of secular versus divine law. Creon displays hubris in defending his right to make and enforce the laws, while Antigone argues the supremacy of the gods’ laws.
A recent U. S. president is quoted as saying, “I’m driven with a mission from God”; Creon would understand. I won’t reveal more plot, but we aren’t talking “Greek comedy” here.
In his adaptation Kierst changes “gods” to “god”-a singular deity he also calls “god of many names,” and I heard biblical phrases from Psalms and John. Thus the discussions of morality and divinity sound modern and maintain their relevance. The Greek Chorus (Craig Myers, Catherine Gordon, and Brian Haney) comment on the action and interact with the characters. Dave McDowell, Ryan Jason Cook, Isabela Montes, and Barbara Geary provide powerful support.
Bridget Kelly is a believable Antigone, secure in the rightness of her civil disobedience. The playwright doesn’t have her change much during the play.
The evening belongs to Charles Fisher who gives a towering interpretation of Creon. Clad in an impeccably tailored black suit with royal purple tie and pocket square by costume designer Erin Moots, like Shakespeare’s “King Lear,” Fisher is “every inch a king.” And like Lear he undergoes a crushing transformation on the path to wisdom. Like Lear he cradles his dead child at the play’s end and questions the meaning of existence.
I saw an audience member wipe away a tear.
“Antigone” by Sophocles plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 6 p.m. through March 22 at The Vortex Theatre, 2004Â½ Central, SE; $15, call 247-8600