Friday, April 19, 2019

Guest review 6 (2018-2019): ANTIGONE: LONELY PLANET

“Antigone's Slippery Slopes” ***

By Aron Canter (guest reviewer)

From time to time Theatre's Leiter Side will be posting reviews of Off-Off Broadway shows my schedule prevents me from seeing. I hope you find the expanded coverage useful. Sam Leiter

Sophocles’ Antigone is ripe for a re-imagining; the tragedy’s themes—polis vs divine law, and including, but not limited to, justice, dignity, feminism, fate, and love—are easily extrapolated, modified, or made universal. There have been numerous modern adaptations of the original. For example, Jean Anouilh’s celebrated rendition (1944), written in Nazi-occupied France, focuses on obstinacy in the face of tyranny. Philosopher Slavoj Zizek wrote The Three Lives of Antigone, an impressive, psychoanalytic contribution to the repertory. Both of these examples, while independent, build from a foundation of a deep understanding of the original work’s ideas and complexities.

Antigone: Lonely Planet, written and directed by Lena Kitsopoulou, and acted in Greek with English subtitles, handles its source material with the care of a drunk carnival barker, or, more aptly, a cocaine-induced skier. The performance is wild to the point of unhinged; it’s provocative and potentially offensive yet seemingly purposeful. This latest addition to the tomb of Antigone’s retellings deepens our understanding of the classic in unexpected and circuitous ways but only if you’re willing to handle it.

Four skiers in full ski garb—skis, poles, helmets, goggles, and red, form-fitting jumpsuits—discuss the play, and related aspects of their lives, as part of a panel discussion. The performance is ostensibly a public lecture concerning Antigone, sponsored by the Public Theater as part of the Democracy Is Coming festival. Skiers understand the plight of Antigone, the theory goes, because the danger of their vocation and the dedication to their practice resemble Antigone’s experience.

As they attempt to discuss the tragedy, their winding, comical dialogue drags them from one wild theme to another. The three central ones are passion, independence and self-sabotage, each relayed with subtlety and taste.

The panel/theatre conceit functions effectively in involving the spectators in the onstage activities, keeping the energy alive. Not that the performance needs any help sustaining its energy. The style, buttressed by the twisting, repetitive, comedic text, has a manic fever pitch. Every tangent ends in an edict. One performer when I attended almost blew a blood vessel protesting the lack of ski-friendly bathrooms. The stamina and intensity of the performers is engrossing and commendable.

These bursts of meandering dialogue and monologues are generally not meant to stir feeling but to be funny, and they frequently are. The comedy is grotesque and over the top, Adult Swim-style. It may not be for a Public Theater audience but the one I sat with responded with tacit interest. There’s a lot of fake blood and a lot of tongue-in-cheek mockery. It’s fun to the point of exhaustion. Comedy is the conduit through which the major themes are explored.

While there's little fealty to Sophocles’ original, nor need there be, the production does attempt to tackle some of the play’s issues. It’s doubtful Sophocles considered Antigone to be a classic liberal but many theater makers have read into her a passionate streak and will to live dangerously. This production makes sure we notice this.

The treatment of imprisonment is interesting. It suggests that Antigone’s literal imprisonment in the cave, where she’ll be left to die, is reflected in our contemporary psychological lives. This is represented by having one of the skiers, in a video shown across the backdrop, bludgeoned and bloodied by a bear, sexually assaulted by law officials, and placed in a translucent box. The performer, in an identical box, is wheeled on below her video self. Her dual presence, incongruous yet identical, creates a thoughtful moment that brings up feelings of claustrophobia and psychological stress.

Unfortunately, this is one of the work’s few such insightful parts. In general, its wild comedy is more exhausting than entertaining, its themes never coalescing into meaning.

The Public Theater/Onassis Festival
425 Lafayette Street
Through April 20

Aron Canter studied theatre theory and alternative performance at The New School and is working toward an Art History masters at Hunter College. He has been a theatre and art critic, a supernumerary at The Metropolitan Opera, and currently works as a medical professional.