Category: Archive

Classics metaphor

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

First came “The Cure at Troy,” a powerful work about banishment and enmity which the Irish Nobel laureate based on “Philoctetes,” written by Sophocles in 409 B.C.
Now there is Heaney’s treatment of “Antigone,”which he’s titled “The Burial at Thebes,” and which the Eleventh Hour Theatre Company is performing through Feb. 11 at LaMaMa E.T.C. at 74A East 4th Street, as part of the theater’s 45th anniversary season.
For the occasion, La MaMa’s capacious first-floor theatre is largely unadorned, with its vast playing area empty except for a spindly table around which stand four austere chairs. The table itself bears a ceremonial bowl which is used only briefly, toward the end of the play’s intermissionless 90-minute duration.
At one end of the performing area is a long flight of stairs on which a considerable measure of the work’s action takes place with the result that spectators sitting in the first few rows may find themselves assuming contortionistic positions if they want to see the stairway action going on behind them.
The chorus, made up of five men and five women, all of them barefoot, make their way, for the most part gracefully, around the primary playing area, on each side of which sits a single row of spectators, their back to the auditorium’s walls.
At one press performance, a plastic bottle of “designer” water rolled into the playing area from under the feet of a front row spectator, adding a bizarrely contemporary note to the Theban doings.
When the members of the chorus mount the stairs, sometimes eyeballing the audience on a nose-to-nose basis, seemingly daring their watchers to avoid their gaze, individuals shifting their attention downward may notice an Ace bandage supporting the right foot of a hefty male chorister, or, more creatively, that one of his distaff colleagues has adorned the toes of both feet with tiny silver rings which may or may not pose a problem when she reverts to footwear suitable for the means streets of the East Village.
Much of the material entrusted to the chorus, and sometimes to the story’s principals, is sung, often very well.
The production, cleanly staged by the Eleventh Hour Company Artistic Director, Alexander Harrington, boasts “original music” by Carman Moore. There is, in fact, such an abundance of music, with recorded instrumental portions performed by the composer, augmented by the live participation of the energetic percussionist, Eli Fountain, that it sometimes becomes difficult to be entirely sure just where Heaney and Sophocles leave off and director Harrington and his colleagues take over.
The first sound the audience hears seems like a cross between the dying agonies of a jungle feline and the final breakdown of a 1937 Studebaker, but Carman’s score quick settles down, becoming generally suitable, albeit a bit insistent here and there.
The title Seamus Heaney has given his telling of the ancient tale has an ironic aspect, since the plot pivots around the fact that the princess, Antigone, daughter of Oedipus, has been denied by King Creon, the successor to her father, the right to bury the body of her beloved brother, Polyneices.
One of the most interesting aspects of Heaney’s accomplishment in “The Burial at Thebes” is the manner in which he has managed to create a Creon who is intensely human, and, while not exactly a hero, certainly more sympathetic than in any other version which comes to mind.
Harrington has been fortunate in his choice of the actor, Frank Anderson, whom he has cast as his semi-sympathetic Creon. The actor’s decidedly avuncular quality is useful, since, in fact the character is the uncle of Antigone and her sister, Ismene.
Anderson, possessor a strong, well-modulated speak voice ideal for handling Heaney’s text is also first rate when it comes to dealing with the segments composer Moore has set to music.
The same applies to both Jessica Crandall, the production’s Antigone, and to Louise Flory, who plays Ismene. Dolores McDougal, who enters the story rather late as Eurydice, Creon’s wife, brings another well-trained voice and powerful presence to the proceedings, as does the actress Janice Bishop, effectively deployed in the male role of the prophet, Tiresias.
John McCarthy is effective as Haemon, the doomed son of Creon, who is also the fianc

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