Eunice Wong (center) and the Chorus in Antigone(Photos © Ching Gonzalez)
Eunice Wong (center) and the Chorus in Antigone
(Photos © Ching Gonzalez)
The National Asian American Theatre Company's production of Sophocles's Antigone is stylish, yet it lacks an emotional core. Directed by Jean Randich, it features several striking visual pictures and an engaging use of the chorus. However, it is tediously paced, with the majority of the exchanges between characters missing the necessary vitality and passion that make the play more than just a philosophical debate.

These problems are apparent from the beginning of the show, as Antigone (Eunice Wong) embraces her sister Ismene (Cindy Cheung) and outlines her plan to bury their dead brother Polyneices in defiance of an edict by their uncle, King Creon. Randich has the actors hold this pose for such a long time that it seems unnatural. And when they finally break from the embrace, they are turned away from each other for no discernable reason, making their conversation seem quite awkward.

The play raises timeless concerns in regard to the laws of the state versus those governing the heart, mind, and soul. NAATCO's production, working from a translation by Brendan Kennelly, also emphasizes gender issues. Mia Katigbak is cast as King Creon; her hair is cut short and she wears a man's suit. As a result of this, certain lines take on an added resonance. For example, when Creon's son Haemon (Art Acuna) argues with his father for the life of Antigone, Creon tells him, "You speak for women," to which Haemon answers, "...if you are a woman. My love is for you. I work for your good fortune." Such lines are not played for humor but, rather, make the viewer reflect on the ironies involved in the reverse-gender casting.

Unfortunately, Katigbak often seems timid in her portrayal of Creon; she does not make this character the imposing threat that others see him as. Furthermore, Creon's arguments with Antigone, Haemon, the chorus, and the prophet Tiresias (Nicky Paraiso) seem half-hearted. Only at the very end, when the king assesses the damage he has wrought to himself and to those around him, does Katigbak really connect with the role.

Wong hits her marks as Antigone but never delves very far below the surface of the character's emotions. She is at her best as Antigone walks slowly toward her doom, flanked on either side by the chorus, lamenting her fate and all of the opportunities in life that she will never experience.

The production makes better use of the chorus than the principals. Dressed in black suits, courtesy of costume designer Elly van Horne, they command the stage as they dance, sing, chant, beat out a rhythm, or converse. In one section, they run in slow motion as shafts of light cut across the stage in a haphazard pattern. (The lighting design is by Stephen Petrilli.) Portions of the chorus's text are beautifully sung to composer Robert Murphy's melodies. When members of the chorus step out to become supplementary characters such as Haemon, Tiresias, and a guard (Orville Mendoza), it is effective.

Still, this Antigone seems cold and listless on the whole. Theatergoers should feel invested in Antigone's plight and Creon's downfall; instead, they are liable to leave the show curiously unmoved.