The Cleveland Playhouse production of ‘Antigone’ is a cautionary tale for today




When you first enter the Outcalt Theatre for the production of “Antigone” you cannot help but notice the massive stage set. It is the front of a government building/palace with steps and a court yard. While it was once a grand edifice it is now all askew. Pillars are damaged or missing altogether, walls are scarred and windows, doors, pillars and walls are set in strange angles. It is representative of the Greek city of Thebes’ where a devastating civil war has just ended fought between two brothers, Eteocles and Polyneices who both died in the ensuing battle for control of the city.

King Creon has now ascended the throne and in the spirit of revenge has declared, “Regarding the bodies of the sons of Oedipus: Eteocles, a hero who fought for Thebes…will be given a hero's burial…But for Polyneices who recruited foreign troops to attack our home—let his corpse rot under the sweltering sun, food for the birds and the dogs…Anyone who dares to bury the enemy will be publicly executed."

In spite of the promise of unity and listening to counsel, King Creon ignores everyone concerning this declaration. The people are against it. Her counselors are against it. Her own niece and sister to Polyneices and Eteocles is against it preferring to risk death by stoning rather than go against the gods and the tradition of a decent burial. Antigone then goes to the battlefield and is caught attempting to bury her brother after which she is brought back to face Creon. Even though Antigone’s sister, Ismene, was against her sibling’s actions she is somehow implicated by association and faces the same fate of death.

With this adaptation by Emily Mann it is more than a study of the peril of absolute power being yielded by one person. It is a story of two very stubborn people who refuse to yield or compromise in any form. Antigone is just as much at fault as is Creon. Another underlying theme is how we deal with death and the burial traditions associated in order that the living can better cope with the loss and move forward. Lastly, it is a lesson on the personal rights of citizens who fight against bad laws enacted by uncaring leaders with ulterior motives.

The Cleveland Play House production of Antigone was originally scheduled for the 2019-2020 season and was in its second week of rehearsals when the Covid shutdown occurred. With restrictions being eased the show is now back on stage. The play is a heavily abridged edition running 80 minutes with no intermission (compared to nearly three hours of run time of the original). In this version Creon (Vanessa Morosco) is female who is married to Eurydice (Laura Starnik) with both being white. The nieces Antigone (Mariah Burks) and Ismene (Bridget Kim) are Black and Asian respectively. These changes from the original do nothing to impact the spirit of the play but do reflect on the rapidly changing social standards now prevalent in today’s society.

Originally penned by Sophocles in 442 B.C. the themes of tyrants, absolute power, going against the wishes of many and the making of many wrong decisions on both sides that leads to disaster is still pertinent in our own current society especially when compared to the last presidential administration. With the attack in the United States on gay rights, LGBTQ organizations, abortion, voting rights, school curriculum, the rise of white supremacy groups, the interpretation of the Constitution of the United States and attacks on Congress this play is just as relevant as when it was first staged in ancient Greece.

All of the actors in the play are members of the Case Western Reserve University- Cleveland Play House Master of Fine Arts Acting Program Class of 2022. As to their individual performances it is a mixed lot. While Mariah Burk (Antigone), Christine McBurney (Creon) and Bridget Kim (Ismene) give relatable representations of their roles others seem to be a bit strongly portrayed which ends up more as a distraction than adding to the overall enjoyment of the play. One standout is Steve Gladstone (a legally blind actor) who plays the blind counselor Teiriesias who is brought in to talk some sense to Creon concerning her mistakes. You can feel his desperation mount as he tries to reason with the errant ruler.

Courtney O’Neill’s Scenic Design sets the mood even before the actors take the stage. The set gives one an uneasy feeling that things are not right and much must be done to repair what has been ruined. Nathan Motta Music Direction adds another thick layer of of discord, ramping up the tension as the play goes on. The Lighting Design by Karin Olson completes the trio of tension setting the proper mood throughout. The costuming by Sara Ryung Clement is a mixed bag with everything from contemporary suits and ties, weird camo gear to avant guarde collections much like one would find on the pages of GQ magazine. To say the least it was interesting.

There is Theater, then there is Theatre and the Cleveland Playhouse production of “Antigone” falls strongly to the latter. In these times of world wide pandemics, countries inching closer to the threat of world war and the dissolution of basic human rights we need a reminder from the past to show us our follies. Sophocles was on point in 442 B.C. and Emily Mann’s adaptation rings true today.

“Antigone” will be on stage in the Outcalt Theatre at Playhouse Square through March 27, 2022. For more information and tickets go to https://www.clevelandplayhouse.com/ or call (216) 241-6000.

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Who is Mark Horning?

Over the course of my life I have worked a variety of jobs including newspapers, retail camera sales and photography. Eight years ago I embarked on yet another career as writer. This included articles concerning sports and cultural events in Cleveland, Ohio as well reviews of the many theatrical productions around town. These days are spent photographing professional dance groups, theater companies and various galas and festivals as well as attending various stage performances and posting reviews about them.