Tale From the Crypt

Anyone who believes that ancient Greek theatre must be stuffy and boring should take in Planet Earth Multi-Cultural Theatre's production of Antigone. He or she will find a rare and rewarding confluence of classic and experimental theatre.

Antigone is the work of Sophocles, the fifth century B.C.'s answer to Stephen Sondheim or Andrew Lloyd Webber. Sophocles was one of the great Greek writers, credited with some 120 plays, and he seems to be making a career comeback in the Valley--Southwest Shakespeare Company recently presented another Sophocles play, Oedipus Rex.

Sophocles frequently explored man's conflict with the gods and fate. While Oedipus seems to be unwittingly condemned, the fate of Antigone is quite literally sealed with her full knowledge.

Antigone picks up years after the death ofOedipus. Antigone and Ismaene, Oedipus' daughters, are grown women, and their uncle, Creon, rules Thebes. Antigone's brother, Polynieces, dies in a revolt against Creon, and Creon has decreed that Polynieces' body be left to desecration by wild beasts. Antigone, appalled and heartbroken, defies Creon's order and buries her brother. She does so knowing that her disobedience may cost her her life.

Antigone is indeed sentenced to death--a ruling she accepts with dignity--and is sealed away in the family tomb. Creon, finally heeding the protests of his subjects, reverses Antigone's death sentence, only to find that she has committed suicide.

Modern audiences may have difficulty relating to a character who would knowingly throw down her life for the family honor. Still, Antigone proves to be an intriguing study in the value of life, honor and power as seen through the eyes of the ancient Greeks.

And, thanks to director/artistic director Peter James Cirino and his treatment of this classic text, the themes play out as a delightful feast for the senses. Patrons encounter two armed guards at the entry to the theatre. Inside, they experience vibrant, blood-red curtains covering the stage floor; the brilliant wonder of fire; the sensuality of the human body; the emotion of music; the grace of dance.

Cirino succeeds in creating a boundless, timeless world, open to broad interpretation, without hampering the clarity of the message.

The acting is generally good, with a wonderful performance by Per Schelde as Creon. He is authoritative, dominating every scene. Yet, as Creon evolves from omnipotent king to vascillating politician, Schelde skillfully reveals Creon's inner struggle.

Timm Rogers, as the blind prophet, Teiresias, is a cool bohemian, giving his narration and prophecy in an appealing, beatnik style. Rogers toys with the audience as he revels in all that he knows.

The traditional Greek chorus is pared down to four shaman and an adviser, the self-proclaimed goddess Demeter, who is also Creon's mistress. Cirino wisely gives each of these five fine performers individual dialogue as opposed to unison speaking, and the interpretations are fresh and interesting. Particularly effective is Heather Lea Poole, whose eyes are as expressive as her voice.

Underscoring the evening is incredible, live guitar music by Athena Palmer. Palmer sets the mood with rhythmic magic and piercing sound effects, yet she never detracts from the action onstage.

Antigone continues through Saturday, February 3, at Planet Earth MultiCultural Theatre, 909 North Third Street. For more details, see Theatre listing in Thrills.

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Gerald Thomson