Surreal Tale Spin

Reinvention of Antigone questions much, answers little

WHIRLING Antigone at Dance Theater Workshop. Photo by Paula Court What do three fates, a corpse, and a celestial egg all have in common? Not much, at first glance. In fact, their combination may seem initially to be random, far-fetched or even totally nonsensical. They are, however, all critical components of Mac Wellman’s new adaptation of Antigone, a classic tale turned inside out. Director Paul Lazar and choreographer Annie B. Parson often find themselves involved in such fantastical, non-narrative projects and for good reason. They seek them out and are in large part responsible for their elaborate execution. Antigone is no exception. Wellman sets his Antigone “at the beginning of time,” well before Sophocles wrote the original play. All characters are represented by the three fates (or in this case four) who, with their squeaky speech and all too human weaknesses, embody the essence of the tragic plot. With brash strokes, Wellman reduces the classic to a few key characters: the irreverent Antigone (Didi O’Connell), Creon, her uncle (Rebecca Wisocky) Teresias, the prophet, and Eurydice, Creon’s wife (Molly Hickok). In addition to the main characters, the spirit of a mysterious ‘unknown god’ occasionally takes possession of the fourth fate (Tricia Brouk). The ‘unknown god’ is especially captivating, described as “a swirl of fabric”, a fleeting voice of uncompromising truth. From upside-down lip synching to egg balancing and radio controlled mice, the variety of devices is dizzying, as is the dialectic of Wellman’s text. Word play and dense poetic layering make linear comprehension impossible and leave the senses whirling. The action is punctuated by an intense, catastrophic sound effect (earthquake? avalanche? Armageddon?), the reverberation of which instills a primal fear of quaking foundations. It is as though the very rock on which reason is based has been shattered. Suspended tires cascading blue gauze become ancient Greek columns in Joanne Howard’s inventive set design. Layers of pleated chiffon and long flowing skirt-pants lend an Asian robe-like feel to the costumes by Claudia Stephens. Cynthia Hopkins’ simple melodies flow together pleasingly recalling the European minuet. The birthing of the story that would become Antigone is a multicultural affair. In a post performance discussion, Paul Lazar explained that he and Ms. Parson became involved with Antigone in part because they knew Mac Wellman to be a particularly flexible dramaturge; one willing to allow his script to be altered and affected by the needs of other elements. Theirs was a democratic process in which all components have equal value; where props are just as imaginative as the performers who maneuver them, where vocal harmonies are just as intricate as the choreography and script. All must be willing to work together, sacrificing perhaps at times, but ultimately charged by their combination. In Antigone, the combination is electric but fails to synthesize. The abrupt shifts of perspective, the rapid-fire infusion of situational witticisms, the narrator’s sporadic serenades, all produce a mesmerizing surrealism that forces one to question the meaning of it all. The ‘unknown god’ exclaims, “I am the unique situation. I am what lies outside language and therefore cannot be understood.” Aha! Wellman, Lazar and Parson surely present a bizarre netherworld that forces one to surrender reason. But there is no revelatory final speech to reorient our bewildered intellect. Antigone is over before we can absorb its meaning and we are left with the words of the ‘unknown god’ echoing: “This is a dance of nothing. All go.”