The ancient Greeks must have loved dysfunctional families; their dramas featured so many of them. Perhaps the most dysfunctional was the house of Laius, personified by King Oedipus, who killed his father, married his mother and then plucked out his own eyes when his iniquity was revealed.
But the story didn't end there. Oedipus had two sons, Eteocles and Polynices, both of whom died in a fraternal battle for the throne of Thebes after their father's demise. He also had two daughters, Ismene and Antigone. Then there was brother-in-law Creon, who became king in the power vacuum created by the deaths of the warring brothers. According to the ancient story, Creon gave one of the dead sons a state funeral with appropriate pomp, while decreeing that the other remain unburied an affront to Theban sensibilities and, as it was understood, to the gods. In the original Antigone, penned around 441 B.C. by the playwright Sophocles, the play's heroine seals her fate by disobeying uncle Creon's order, arguing forcefully that the laws of man must be subservient to those of the gods. Creon duly executes the willful Antigone, but is eventually punished for his hubris, losing both his wife and son.
In 1943, French playwright Jean Anouilh found within Sophocles' play elements reflective of his own time and place France during the Nazi occupation. His updated work pits Antigone, who embodied the spirit of French resistance, against Creon, the ruler of the state, standing in for the Nazis, who felt that they were merely imposing the necessary order upon the recalcitrant body politic. Guess for whom the French audiences rooted.
It is this version of the tale that is currently being staged by Mad Cow Theatre, in an intelligent and lucid production directed by Peg O'Keef. But taken out of its original context, most of the play's sympathies now tend to lie with Creon, who is not only given more lines but by far the better arguments. In contrast, Anouilh's Antigone comes across as a somewhat muddled young woman who simply and spitefully doesn't want to become like her uncle.
Giving even more weight to Creon's worldview is the powerful and dominating performance of Michael Mauldin as this duty-bound politician, whose unasked-for lot in life was to right the listing ship of state, whatever the cost. Babette Wagner's Antigone loses the debate but still shines in some of her more emotional scenes, especially when her impending death causes her to reflect upon her childish behavior. When it comes to dysfunctional families, and especially headstrong adolescents, perhaps not much has changed over the last 2,500 years.
Through April 2
Mad Cow Theatre
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