On my way to see Reflecting Antigone performed by The Rude Mechanicals, I got stuck in a traffic jam caused by a Black Lives Matter protest. I could not have known then, how fitting a circumstance that would be.
This parsed down version of Sophocles’s Antigone hones in on the title character’s political and moral stand against her uncle Creon, the king. He rules that the body of her brother Polynices, who died a traitor in Creon’s eyes, shall not be covered or given a proper burial on pain of death. In defiance of the state, Antigone lays a scarf over her brother’s corpse. Despite the protests of the masses, Creon decides to uphold his decree, and Antigone is killed.
Reflecting Antigone draws a parallel between Antigone’s fight against corrupt authority and the recent outbreaks of police brutality and surge of the Black Lives Matter movement. Director Leanne G. O’Neill has chosen to drive home these parallels by creating a double world within the play: one in Ancient Greece, and one in contemporary Baltimore. Set in both the past and the present, Polynices’s fate becomes hauntingly similar to that of Michael Brown, whose body was left in the street in Ferguson, Missouri for hours before being removed. Peppered with interviews from witnesses to the Baltimore riots and photo montages of victims and protesters, the production was boldly intent on comparing Antigone’s ancient fight for social justice to the wave of protests happening across our country today.
This is a compelling concept in theory, but it never fully coheres during the performance. The relentless photos become gratuitous and overly didactic, while the double time periods never quite make the impact they intend. Both the Baltimore Antigone (Lisa Hill-Corley) and Greek Antigone (Jaki Demarest) weave in and out of each other’s scenes without acknowledging one another. This conceit has great dramatic potential, but here seemed only to ineffectively point out the story’s contemporary relevance. One wonders why there are two Antigones at all. Would the narrative be different were it simply set in Baltimore the entire time, instead of flashing back and forth?
Several performers deliver exceptional performances: Demarest’s Greek Antigone is fiery with passion and she lights up the stage with vocal energy. Likewise, Hill-Corley’s Baltimore Antigone shows great spunk. Joshua Engel as Antigone’s lover Haemon is particularly compelling, and Joe Dzikiewicz as Creon navigates the king’s difficult decisions expertly.
On an aesthetic level, costumes by Trevor Jones highlight the two different eras effectively. In Ancient Greece, the soldiers wear armour; in Baltimore, riot gear. The lighting by Liana Olear is kept simple, but evocative.
Reflecting Antigone has big ideas and an activist spirit. Antigone’s plight is one that we should all remember as the fight for justice, freedom, and democracy grows ever more desperate.
Running Time: 45 minutes, with no intermission.
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