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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Astounding Antigonick at Berkeley's Shotgun Players

Posted By on Wed, Mar 25, 2015 at 10:38 AM

click to enlarge Kenny Toll as Guard, Rami Margron as Antigone, photo by Pak Han
  • Kenny Toll as Guard, Rami Margron as Antigone, photo by Pak Han

No curtain hides the long, curved lick of bare wood that forms the set of the Shotgun Players’ production of Antigonick. Made of light, long planks, it swerves from the floor up to the top of the theater like an asymptotic bowling alley, a daredevil’s roller derby jump, an echo chamber, an arena turned on its side. It might be playful, were it not for the figure of a dead horse suspended perilously over the stage by ropes lashed about its belly. Before the play begins, under interrogation-bright lights, barefoot Nick (Parker Murphy) in tight white jeans revolves slowly upstage right. The message seems clear: no tricks to taint this scene.

Antigonick is Sophocles’ Greek tragedy Antigone, the story of a woman’s determination to honor her dead brother against the will of the state, retold by the poet Anne Carson. In Carson’s version, the words are handwritten in all caps, with illustrations by Bianca Stone printed on vellum, that translucent paper that used to be made from the skin of a calf. Like many of Carson’s recent works, Antigonick is a beautiful object as well as a text. It is called a translation, though it choirs with Hegel and Beckett and Virginia Woolf.

click to enlarge Kenny Toll as Haimon, Kevin Clarke as Kreon, photo by Pak Han
  • Kenny Toll as Haimon, Kevin Clarke as Kreon, photo by Pak Han

As rendered by Shotgun veteran Mark Jackson and choreographer Hope Mohr, the play uses tense, minimal strokes that erupt into a grand ferocity. A slim cast of six tells the story from start to finish. Sisters Antigone (a defiant Rami Margron) and Ismene (Monique Jenkinson; understudy Megan Trout at preview) declaim the first lines of the play in staccato bursts, standing side by side dressed as schoolgirls, stock still but for angry mouths set in otherwise impassive faces as they debate whether to let the body of their brother Polyneices lie exposed or bury him. Carson’s text is elliptical, and the two repeat the opening several times, taking pauses like chokeholds and shifting on the stage to face each other before taking hopscotch steps that accelerate into a ritual that becomes astonishing through precision, repetition, and speed.

This and other manipulations of time characterize the play, with the sound of ticking sometimes faint and sometimes deafening in Theodore J. H. Hulsker’s sound design, visually marked by the silent character Nick, who “measures things” in tiptoes, pendulum swings, and lightfooted runs arcing up the side of the unforgiving curve of the stage. Nick measures effortlessly what the others try to reason and reassure and tyrannize themselves into: the militant Kreon (Kevin Clarke), who bombastically announces his “verbs for today” (“ADJUDICATE LEGISLATE / SCANDALIZE / CAPITALIZE”) and his nouns (“MEN / REASON / TREASON/ DEATH/ SHIP OF STATE / MINE”) while wielding the backs and flats of his hands like blades. David Sinaiko is the one-man chorus, here a glittering-eyed professor who makes dry comments about the grammar of the scene.

click to enlarge Parker Murphy as Nick and Rami Margron as Antigone, photo by Pak Han
  • Parker Murphy as Nick and Rami Margron as Antigone, photo by Pak Han

“What is a nick?” stammers the queen Eurydike (Trout) in one of the most painful speeches of the play — her only speech, she is careful to announce — in between learning of the death of her son Haimon (Kenny Toll), betrothed to the ill-starred Antigone, who has hung herself in order to avoid execution, before she launches into a stunningly raw dance that leaves spit on the stage and stockings limp about the crotch. It’s the planets lining up poorly, perfectly, making collisions and constellations madcap and furious.

Shotgun Players presents Antigonick at 8 p.m. March 26-April 19 at the Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave., Berkeley. $5-$30;
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