Theodoros Terzopoulos, the man behind the 2013 Fringe Festival hit AJAX, The Madness, is back in Philadelphia and directing his version of ANTIGONE for the Wilma Theater. His latest production continues in the same vein of highly visual and physical performance, only this time with a longer and more narrative piece. Unlike its predecessor, it is a failure. But what a spectacular failure.
The story of Antigone is as complicated and multigenerational as one expects from an Ancient Greek play. It starts when Antigone’s father, King Oedipus, has already played out his tragedy and the city is in the hands of Creon (Antonis Miriagos), Oedipus’ brother-in-law, after Oedipus’ sons have fought for power and killed each other. Creon decrees that the brother who attacked the city, Polyneices, is a traitor whose body will not be buried. Antigone (Jennifer Kidwell) opposes and hatches a plan to bury her brother anyway. Antigone is also engaged to Creon’s son Haemon (Brian Ratcliffe), which becomes problematic when Creon finds out about Antigone’s attempt to bury her brother, and sentences her to death. And so on; it wouldn’t be a Greek tragedy if it was possible to explain in one paragraph how all characters are connected to each other.
Despite its somewhat confusing plot turns and character relationships, ANTIGONE is not only philosophically and intellectually provocative but profoundly human. That’s why these plays have lasted. And therein lies the problem with Wilma’s production of ANTIGONE. When Terzopoulos did his take on Ajax’s madness, he focused on a specific moment in a story and portrayed that madness with his extraordinary eye for visual and physical spectacle. With ANTIGONE, however, he is trying to do the same with a complicated narrative and characters. The end result is beautiful to watch but on an emotional and storytelling level it just doesn’t work. The real content and power of this play are lost underneath its impressive visuals.
The synchronized, interesting movements and otherworldly facial expression, maintained for so long it must border on torture, are impressive and intriguing to watch. But that’s not enough to carry a 90-minute play where the visuals take precedence and don’t give the audience a chance to see underneath the surface of the characters. After a while the intensity and monotony of expression in this play turns exhausting. Not to mention the overwhelming amount of seemingly random references to historical events, like the history of slavery. One of the great things about the Greek plays is that they are always relevant and there is no need to underline that relevance with obvious points.
Within the limits of the director’s rather narrow vision, the acting is good almost across the board. Jennifer Kidwell (Antigone) seems unable to portray emotions apart from anger but other actors fair better—Antonis Miriagos as Creon is an absolute pleasure to watch.
ANTIGONE is not a good production but it’s a great failure of a production. It doesn’t fail because it’s trying to do something boring, it fails because it’s attempting something interesting. That’s worth seeing.
[The Wilma Theater, 265 S Broad St] October 7-November 8, 2015; wilmatheater.org.