First off, I would like to say how lucky we are to have a university with a strong department of theater here in Fort Wayne. The variety of productions included in the 2018-19 season is impressive. The diversity of plays is a gift to both students and the community.
The last production, A Year with Frog and Toad, was delightful in pretty much every way. The current production of Antigone, though, is significantly more thought-provoking in nature, showing a full switch of gears and the production team meeting the many challenges of this classic of Greek theatre.
The plot of Antigone is relatively simple. Antigone’s brother Polyneices has been killed and the king, Antigone’s Uncle Creon, has instructed that Polyneices be left where he died and not given proper burial. Antigone objects and the conflict between her and her uncle escalates since she steadfastly refuses to follow the directive as it will insult the gods and dishonor her brother’s spirit.
Especially effective in this production is the use of the Greek chorus. Due to scheduling issues, I had to attend the dress rehearsal. This meant that other than the production team and a few dozen students likely meeting an attendance requirement, the house was pretty empty. The chorus, consisting of 15 members, was free to move consistently throughout the entire theater. With all members speaking simultaneously and commenting on the principal characters’ actions and even their thoughts, the chorus is used to address the moral conflicts and character flaws brilliantly.
As with local productions of nearly any play, direct and obvious parallels to contemporary events are added and maximized throughout this fairly faithful staging. In a short scene during which members of the chorus are in modern dress before the first act, the peaceful kneeling of NFL players is used quite well in connecting inability and refusal to follow expected patterns of behavior. It even has Corrie Taylor, who plays Antigone, kneeling as she looks for and fails to find much support in a preview of the plot that directly follows.
As Antigone, Taylor is quite good and meets the requirements of the heavy role almost completely. Personally, I think she’s at her best when she shows her highest levels of restraint and allows her facial expressions rather than volume to show the audience what the character is experiencing. In addition, she looks just right for the role and she truly dazzles.
As King Creon, Anthony D’Virgilio is also well chosen. The moral journey and battle with ego he faces require much of the actor, but he manages to portray the struggles completely.
Laughs are few here, but those included all come from always-reliable senior Vince Rainelli, who plays a sentry. When he graduates and moves on, Rainelli will surely be missed.
The many other members of the ensemble cast are well-chosen and they move through their scenes flawlessly, even during the preview performance.
Director Jeff Casazza has timed every challenging element beautifully for Antigone. The variety of movements is significant and maximizes the power of the chorus as it advances and critiques the bloody plot.
Scenic and lighting designer Professor Mark Ridgeway has added much to the production and managed to integrate the house as well as the stage in his design to create a full theatrical environment. Many elements were simple and for that reason they work well. A well-lit and enormous bloodied mask dominates the stage, allowing the bodies of chorus members to fill in as props. This is most evident in a scene during which a seer advising Creon mounts and stands atop members of the chorus, giving the tiny actress playing an old blind man enormous stature.
If for no other reason, Purdue University Fort Wayne Department of Theatre’s production of Antigone warrants attendance for its expression of artistry. If it inspires thought about justice and conviction, that should serve as a bonus of seeing this very old but timeless tale.