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A CurtainUp Review

"Then with Ivo, I wrote an email telling him: I'm going to be on tour for a year, I would like to be onstage a little more and not waiting for the end of the play in my dressing room."— Juliette Binoche, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal
Juliette Binoche (Photo: Staphanie Berger
Call me punctilious, but somehow reworking a 2400-year-old classic so that a movie star can have more stage time strikes me as ill-considered, if not downright disrespectful. Yet, according to Juliette Binoche in the Wall Street Journal, that's exactly what happened with Antigone, in which she currently stars at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

To Anne Carson's sometimes stark, often stirring translation are added a vignette of Antigone actually "burying"her brother, a visual that admittedly works, and a return from the dead by the heroine, a jarring fillip that decidedly does not. Binoche is a wonderful film actress who conveys warmth and intimacy with effortless grace, and occasionally in this production we see that side of her. But far too often she is strident, her voice shrill and her strength brittle. Antigone may be hardheaded, but she should command our respect and invite our empathy. That's hard to pull off when you're pushing the audience away, creating a distance that impedes connection.

Luckily, the rest of the cast is superb, starting with Patrick O'Kane as Kreon, Antigone's uncle and the newly anointed King of Thebes. Not so heroic as Antigone, he's ultimately more tragic. She merely dies, while he must continue to live after losing his wife and son. Following a civil war between Antigone's brothers, in which both die, Kreon decrees that Polyneikes, the rebel, not be buried. Antigone defies him and he puts her to death, warding off all who counsel him not to with hubristic disdain.

O'Kane's performance is beautifully calibrated. Kreon starts out smooth and sleek, measured and restrained. With an even voice, he's the embodiment of reason. His only concern is what's best for the citizenry. Law shall rule, and it's his duty to set the law as he deems best. But danger lurks below. An undercurrent of menace, manageable at first, grows inevitably and surfaces regularly. This is where O'Kane excels. He subtly and precisely balances the statesman and the autocrat, reason and rage, fine-tuning his emotional pitch with each note in the script. The servant of the law becomes its master.

Directing sensation Ivo van Hove, whose A View from the Bridge opens on Broadway in November, has chosen to have his five chorus members double as characters in the play. And, rather than speak in unison, each chorus member speaks a portion of the chorus's commentary as an individual. It's surprisingly effective, due in part to the virtuosity of the performers, but also because it makes the chorus, and what it says, more personal.

Obi Abili is the Guard who discovers that someone has covered Polyneikes' body with dirt. He provides the play's only comic relief with a light, infectious touch. Hesitant, bumbling, self-effacing, apologetic, he's very funny as he tells Kreon the bad news and waits for the sky to fall. Which it does.

Kathryn Pogson is affecting in a brief turn as Kreon's wife, Eurydike, but it's during her chorus duties that her powerful yet modulated voice commands attention as she bemoans fate and its manifestations. As Antigone's sister, Ismene, Kirsty Bushell is dressed for success and is not going to let her brother's death or her sister's scruples get in the way. She's forceful yet, in this paean to feminism, accepts her limitations: ". . [We're girls] —girls cannot force their way against men."

Samuel Edward-Cook is Haimon, Kreon's son and Antigone's betrothed, who slyly declares his loyalty to his father before all else, then proceeds to plead Antigone's case. Finbar Lynch, as seer Teiresias completes the chorus.

Van Hove's Antigone is set in an arid, expansive exterior and a well-appointed but spare interior. Outside is upstage, then down a few steps and you're inside. The two playing areas bleed into each other frequently. Jan Versweyveld's set is dominated by a large disc that often seems to be the sun, at one point ominously portraying an eclipse. Tal Yarden's video projections come and go almost imperceptibly. They come in a variety of flavors, the most common being a view of humanity out of focus.

It's unfortunate that van Hove wasn't able to point his leading lady in the right direction. But with its otherwise excellent cast and the director's sense of both the minimal and the grand, Antigone is haunting. It's not exactly focused, but perhaps, like the projections, that's intentional.

Written by Sophocles
New translation by: Anne Carson
Director: Ivo van Hove
Cast: Juliette Binoche (Antigone), Obi Abili (Guard/Chorus), Kirsty Bushell (Ismene/Chorus), Samuel Edward-Cook (Haimon/Chorus), Finbar Lynch (Teiresias/Chorus), Patrick O'Kane (Kreon), Kathryn Pogson (Eurydike/Chorus), Nathaniel Jackson (Body of Polyneikes/Boy)
Set and lighting: Jan Versweyveld
Dramaturg: Peter van Kraaij
Video: Tal Yarden
Composition and Sound: Daniel Freitag
Costumes: An d'Huys
Running Time: I hour 40 minutes, no intermission.
BAM Harvey Theater, 651 Fulton Street;
STARTING DATE: September 24; opening September 27; closing October 4
Reviewed by Michael Bracken based on September 25 performance td>
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