Greek tragedies have lasted millennia and seem to never go out of style. Every year there’s an abundance of examples of new interpretations—few of them successful—and Sophocles’ Antigone is one of the most popular. The tale of a powerful female who battles male hegemony is seductive stuff for headstrong young women, and it may also explain why it’s next to impossible to create an innovative version that doesn’t smack of earnest feminist conceptual fussiness.
Rachel Dickstein’s dance-theater piece Fire Throws, currently playing at the always surprising 3LD space, has managed to double the fiery, fierce female quotient by introducing two Antigones. Erica Berg plays the “Antigone who is,” a smart young woman dressed like a stylish graduate student (complete with pinned-up hair) and Laura Butler as “Antigone who was,” the willful girl who disobeys her uncle to bury her brother. They both emote with intensity, Berg analyzing and explaining her storied self’s actions like a thesis come to life.
Creon is played by John Campion, who has a masterful understanding of
the text but stiffens the otherwise touchy-feely direction. The crimson robes worn by most of the cast make them resemble Shaolin monks and the Alvin Ailey-meets-Martha Graham choreography (complete with wavy fabrics and expressive hand and arm gestures) looks like too much time was spent on a women’s college campus.
Digital video projections continue to crop up in productions seeking a modern imprimatur but should be avoided unless they actually add value to a live performance. Here the projections, on a front scrim and a back wall, feel amateurish and distracting (the huge image of Campion’s nose hairs was especially repellent). Instead, a wonderful and moving choice was the inclusion of a chilling aerial dance that embodies Eurydice’s death.
The most successful, and at times extraordinary, element of the entire production is an eerie score by Jewlia Eisenberg that wafts through the beautifully lit stage. It is performed live by Charming Hostess with live voice and an eclectic array of instruments, including Javanese boning (small gongs) and slentham (or metallophone), jaw harp as well as cello, clarinet and violin. Maybe that should be the next truly radical approach a director bring to Antigone: forget all those familiar words and chest-beating scenes and try to convey the story through a compelling score alone. That way, we’d all be safe from another retelling that doesn’t necessarily need to be retold.
Through March 28, 3LD Art & Technology Center, 80 greenwich St (at Rector St.), 212-352-3101; $20-$25.