One really nice development on the Twin Cities theater scene over the past few years is that small theaters are getting bigger exposure with the help of higher-profile venues. Productions that have generated a lot of word-of-mouth among local theatergoers (and, as a result, plenty of “Wish I’d seen that”) are being revived at more familiar destinations. The Guthrie’s been hosting a host of them at its Dowling Studio, while Park Square Theatre has been doing something similar in downtown St. Paul.
While Girl Friday Productions is performing Thornton Wilder’s “The Skin of Our Teeth” on Park Square’s main stage, there’s an adaptation of Sophocles’ “Antigone” with an all-woman cast down in the intimate Andy Boss Thrust. This version of the almost-2,500-year-old drama was originally created by director MJ Kedrowski and her cast for a 2016 Theatre Coup d’Etat production. Or rather, it’s been created again, for the current cast has taken the tale of conflict within a royal family in its own fresh direction.
The result is a very worthwhile show that makes Sophocles’ questions about allegiances to order, state and family feel quite immediate. Full of movement and boasting very intriguing designs in set, sound and costumes, it takes what can seem an ancient museum piece and attempts to lift the burden of being a “classic” from its shoulders.
Yet not entirely successfully. There are conflicting acting styles onstage, some speaking as if issuing formal proclamations, others more in natural conversation, candid and casual. When flashbacks occur, everyone becomes believably human, only to stiffen and start declaring again when we return to the central narrative.
That narrative is about how Antigone, daughter of Oedipus, risks her life by engaging in civil disobedience. Vying for the crown, her two brothers kill one another, and the new king, her uncle Creon, gives one a state funeral and leaves the other’s corpse to rot as a cautionary tale to potential rebels. Antigone insists upon burying her brother and repeatedly moves his body in the middle of the night to do so. When she’s finally arrested, it sets up one of literature’s great arguments about power, loyalty and law.
For 95 intermission-less minutes, the action clips along, and is at its most engaging when the characters cast aside a haughty air of importance and start listening to one another and speaking with honest emotion. Alas, Lauren Diesch’s Antigone doesn’t offer us enough of what drives her obsession. She voices her motivations but is too heavily armored to let us see what’s in her heart. So it falls to Laura Leffler to represent vulnerable, flawed humanity as Creon — a leader convinced that it’s more important to be consistent than to be right – and she does so with mixed success.
Amid all of these grave doings, the comic relief provided by Meredith Kind as a clock-puncher of a guard is quite welcome. Yet I kept waiting for someone onstage to cut loose and open up about what’s truly at stake in this drama. At last, Jamie White Jachimiec does so as Antigone’s loving aunt (and Creon’s wife), her eruption the most heartbreaking moment of a show with potential for a lot more.
One thing this “Antigone” has is atmosphere, and that’s a credit to not only Kedrowski getting her ensemble very much on the same page, but also the eerie music produced onstage by the piano, percussion and fuzz- and feedback-laden electric guitar of Sarah and Steve Modena. Morgan Groff’s costumes are an impressive hybrid of ancient and modern, and such could be said of this whole production. While it could be more emotional, it certainly articulates its ideas well.
What: Park Square Theatre’s “Antigone”
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday; through March 3
Where: Andy Boss Thrust Stage, 408 St. Peter St., St. Paul
Tickets: $60-$16, available at 651-291-7005 or parksquaretheatre.org
Capsule: Love vs. law, formalism vs. naturalism, Antigone vs. Creon.