Adapter-director Shishir Kurup subtitles his Orwellian adaptation of Sophocles‘ Antigone ”a Greek tragedy hijack.“ That’s putting it mildly.
You probably know that Antigone (played by the broodingly intense Page Leong) — here an ”interdisciplinary artist“ — was always a surly brat, and Kurup hasn‘t changed that. After all, Oedipus was her dad, reason enough for her to seethe behind a mask of Principle — which may or may not be the real cause of her rebellion against the king, her uncle Creon, here renamed Krayon (a stylishly vainglorious portrayal by Bernard White).
Her beloved brother, Polynices, a treasonous though idealistic ”drug dealer,“ lies rotting in Pershing Square, deprived of the honor of burial by the drug-czar monarch. Meanwhile, Antigone, arrested and threatened with execution for unlawfully burying Poly, needs to make a point about her uncle’s control of the media and the lack of integrity within his plastic kingdom of corporate mergers and doublespeak. And why? She wasn‘t cuddled enough as a kid, her sister Ismene (Gracy Brown) explains. But Antigone’s rage is for a good cause. Or is it?
Late in Kurup‘s adaptation, Krayon gives Antigone a tidbit that indeed hijacks Sophocles, while gutting Antigone’s raison d‘etre: The iconic Polynices unheroically betrayed his comrades by striking a deal with Krayon, a state secret that can be preserved only if Poly is demonized and left to rot.
End of story? Krayon hopes so as he urges now demoralized Antigone to embrace life before summoning his fellow thesps for a curtain call. But in a metatheatrical insurrection, they demand that the story continue: Krayon insists that Antigone now has no reason to die; they answer that perhaps she now has no reason to live. Play on.
By so tainting Polynices, Krayon all too effectively belittles not only Antigone’s Principle but, with it, the voice of dissent itself. The question is: Has Kurup done the same? The answer is yes. Though Kurup is a clown and a wit who ridicules almost everything, he goes even further by shrink-wrapping Antigone into a wisecracking social satire. Swathed in a lampoon of Big Brother values — including a pre-show televised plug for a weekly execution broadcast called Fryyyday Night, and commercials for ”designer genes by DKNY“ and a ”home drug-test kit“ — An Antigone Story relishes poking fun at Krayon while vanquishing his opposition.
If Antigone has no Principle worth fighting him for, if dissent is so corrupted, there is no contest of wills that really matters. Big Brother won long ago, and this is the story of Antigone‘s disillusion. Whether she lives or dies is now a factor of her mood rather than her conviction. Which leaves progressives up the Greek without a paddle. In his 1944 adaptation, Jean Anouilh used Antigone to rail against the Vichy government for its collaboration with the Nazis, whereas Kurup gives us an entertainment on the pointlessness of political activism. And for what? Ironic despair? I hear Big Brother applauding.
There’s no arguing with the spectacle‘s visual seductiveness, or its tautness, or with Kurup’s five original ditties, or with his use of the cavernous, ornate Subway Terminal — plaster spilling from pillars that punctuate a playing space so huge, the actors are all miked. A wry Korus (Peter Howard) narrates when not capturing the action on a videocam and freeze-framing dramatic tableaux shown on an upstage screen. Lighting designer Geoff Korf bathes the stage floor in neonlike washes as techies follow some of the action with portable spots — all a very MTV, glitzy distraction from Sophocles and Anouilh turning in their graves.