Adaptations of Greek plays have been plentiful on New York’s stages in the past seasons, and one of the most popular of the classics has been Sophocles’ Antigone. But any thoughts of not watching one more retelling of this infamous story of civil disobedience should be put aside for
Fire Throws, Rachel Dickstein’s vibrant new dance-theater piece now at 3LD Art & Technology Center.
Dickstein’s chief innovation is to have the story unfold from the perspective of two Antigones. There is “Antigone Who Was” (played with earnest passion by Laura Butler), the fiery young woman who disobeys the edict of her uncle, King Creon (the commanding John Campion) and buries her brother Polyneices after he’s killed during a siege he’s instigated on the city of Thebes. And there’s “Antigone Who Is” (the haunting Erica Berg), an incarnation of the character from the afterlife, who is revisiting her tragedy and brings a fascinating level of insight into her younger self’s intentions. She also has the ability to witness the actions of others in fresh and wiser ways. The presence of this character, imbued by Berg with an intense calmness, instantly captivates.
Theatergoers will also find that Creon’s nature and motivations are brought to life in new and surprising ways. Here, the Theban leader brings to mind Richard Nixon; he is a man obsessed with absolute power and, at the same time, he displays an almost debilitating paranoia. Campion’s ability to harness these two extremes makes this Creon a leader to be feared on many levels. Moreover, his seeming instability sheds new light on Antigone’s actions — as does a confession that Antigone Who Was makes late in the piece when she confesses her reasons for burying Polyneices.
Dickstein’s vision for the piece as a whole commands one’s visceral attention. Jewlia Eisenberg’s original score — for strings, a single clarinet, percussion, and voice — gives the entire production an otherworldly quality. When dance takes over, the company-created choreography marvelously enhances not only the tumultuous events that are inexorably sending Antigone to her death, but also of her own frenzied thoughts and emotions. One of the most striking moments comes as Butler is carried, legs still moving, toward Polyneices’ body as if Antigone is being propelled by otherworldly forces. However, not all of the choreography is as lucid in its intent as this moment, particularly a brief sequence meant to illuminate Creon’s interior world.
Tyler Micoleau lights the production with almost painterly finesse, and Maya Ciarrocchi’s video and projection design simultaneously gives the proceedings an eerie desolate quality. And while there are moments in which Dickstein’s script thuds into banality, these lapses are brief and the production always rebounds quickly.