BWW Review: Style Against Substance in Salvage Vanguard Theatre's ANTIGONICK
Like Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, ANTIGONICK reveals the fate of the characters immediately. ANTIGONICK is award winning poet and Classics professor Anne Carson's reinterpretation of Sophocles' Antigone, part three in his famous Theban plays. Antigone continues the story of eye-gouging tragedy Oedipus Rex, perhaps the most well-known in the Theben plays.
Carson's deep knowledge of ancient Greek literature, culture, and history makes her the ideal person to translate and reimagine Sophocles' revered work. She gives the story modernity but holds fast to its universal and still relevant themes of tragedy, grief, and fate. Director Diana Small of Salvage Vanguard Theater puts an experimental spin on Carson's play to make for a truly unique theatrical experience in ANTIGONICK.
If you're unfamiliar with the story of Antigone, ANTIGONICK may feel narratively inscrutable at first, but you'll soon learn this staging focuses on how the audience feels over what they know. Ms. Small has the show begin in an unexpected spot at Austin's Dougherty Arts Center. After a quiet introduction to the Greek chorus and some pontification on the symbolism of a door, characters are introduced. Antigone, played with knowing steadfastness by Megan Tabaque, is the epitome of a tragic figure cursed from birth.
ANTIGONICK's inciting incident is simply an act of grief: Antigone burying her murdered traitor brother Polynices. This defiant act reveals Antigone's uncompromising strength, but her actions nonetheless result in tragedy for all surrounding characters. It seems as though not one character dodges the unstoppable machine of tragedy barreling towards them. Most notable of these surrounding characters is vengeful Kreon played by Jay Byrd. He'll stop at nothing to punish Antigone, indirectly punishing her betrothed and his son Haimon, played by Travis Tate. In Kreon's attempts to make an example out of Antigone, his family changes in ways he could have never predicted.
This well-chosen cast overflows with talent, the standout being Jay Byrd with his blistering, contorted facial expressions and physicality. Mr. Byrd takes full advantage of every moment he's on stage and impressively constructs Kreon's arc with vulnerability and intimidation. Paige Tautz effortlessly moves back and forth between her duel roles as the musically inclined Chorus of Old Theban Men and Antigone's obedient sister Ismene. Vincent Tomasino also takes on duel roles, bringing humor as the Guard and utter, hand wringing despair as Eurydike.
Sets are sparse in ANTIGONICK, but the unconventional costumes and props fill the space. All action takes place on and around a raised, rectangular platform with rows of chairs on either side, almost like a runway. The ceiling over the stage transfixes with its swath of hanging empty water bottles gently bumping against each other, providing a lilting backing track and additional creative touch to the entire performance.
Certain choices, staging, and heavy emphasis on audience experience sometimes overpower the narrative in the first half of ANTIGONICK. This imbalance threatens to pull the audience out of the experience to figure out what's happening or why one character takes an action or reacts in the way they do. But the scales balance in the second half as consequences of characters' actions take center stage and Ms. Small ends the play on a profound note. A feeling of organized chaos runs throughout the production which gives a sense of welcome playfulness amongst the heavy themes and material.
This production of ANTIGONICK enthusiastically brings together ancient and modern art in an amalgamation of bizarre, experimental staging and timeless themes. Though Ms. Small's production sometimes focuses on style over substance, it succeeds in drawing the audience in and sending them off with an experience not soon forgotten. And this unforgettable experience is a worthwhile one.
Photo Credit: Usama Malik
March 21 - April 06, 2019 Thursdays - Saturdays at 8 p.m.
Dougherty Arts Center
1110 Barton Springs Road
Austin, TX, 78704
TICKETS: $10-$20 online, sliding scale. Pay-What-You-Wish every night at the door.
Box office opens at 6:30pm
Reservations for each performance can be made HERE