Abusive power

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Too late for the Bush administration but timely and universal anyway, Sophocles’ tragedy “Antigone” deals with the defiance of unjust authority, the arrogance of power and how easily that power intimidates good people into silence.

The story is pretty simple: Kreon, the king of Thebes, has forbidden the proper burial of Polyneices, a warrior who fought for control of the city. Antigone, Polyneices’ sister, is determined to bury him anyway, even though the penalty for doing so is death. Oh, by the way, Antigone and her siblings, including her obedient and fearful sister Ismene, are the children of Oedipus and Jocasta — you’ve heard of them. Kreon is their uncle. Thus are we primed for another family catastrophe.

The Queens Players, in collaboration with the aptly named Secret Theatre (the stage is in back of a loading dock in an amazingly unpeopled part of Long Island City), have produced an electrifying version of “Antigone.” The actors are masked, as they were back in Sophocles’ day, and their actions are stylized. This in no way diminishes the passion of the work, and might, in fact, enhance it.

Dara Tiller is a small woman, but her Antigone is heroic in her fiery defiance. Kelly McCabe’s Ismene is her opposite, fearful of the consequences of defying this unjust law, but later encouraged by witnessing her sister’s bravery.

Ira Sargent is moving as Antigone’s grief−stricken fiancÉ, Haemon, who happens to be Kreon’s son. At first he acknowledges his father’s authority, both as king and father, before he goes on to suggest Kreon might be a little harsh. Later, after watching the sufferings of his fiancÉe, he’ll abandon any pretense of bowing to Kreon’s cruelty.

David R. Doumeng plays Kreon, initially, with a rigidity that gives no quarter and is tinged with an astonished misogyny. One wonders what disgusts him more — the fact that his law was disobeyed or that it was disobeyed by a woman. (“O she’s the man, not I, if she can walk away unscathed!”) One wants to throw one’s shoes at him. But, unlike in real life, he pays for his intransigence and brutality in ways that a modern play would find too good to be believed. His ending makes King Lear’s look almost happy.

Part of Kreon’s downfall is his contemptuous dismissal of Teiresias, the old seer played brilliantly by Katie Braden — such is another utility of the mask. By the time Kreon takes the old man’s word to heart, it’s too late.

The chorus is also exceptional, as are Amanda Adili’s Eurydice, struck dumb and mad with grief when she learns of the fate of her son Haemon; Chris Duncan as the sentry who must tell the unwise king the news that his edict has been flaunted; and Tiffany Turner as a messenger who brings Kreon another bit of terrible news.

Greg Cicchino directs with confidence. The remarkable set, all white moveable columns and white draperies with a spotlit altar in the center, was designed by R. Allen Babcock. The lighting, also by Babcock, is strong as the Greek sun, and the music, with Nick Messitte as the sound designer, is stark.

The barefoot actors wear simple chiton−esque threads, with only a sash or leggings or hint of a crown on their mask indicating their status — and Kreon, of course, struts around with a gray, kingly beard. The masks, which seem made of papier mache with wool for hair, are works of art by Dimetri Saari. The translation — the program doesn’t say who the translator was, by the way — is simple, gorgeous and musical.

“Antigone” is a must see, even in the age of Obama. It will be at the Secret Theatre through March 29.

If You Go:

Antigone — Sophocles’ classic tragedy. Presented by the Queens Players.

When: March 26−28, 8 p.m.

Cost: $15

Where: The Secret Theatre, 44−02 23rd St., LIC

Contact: 718−392−0722

Web site: www.secrettheatre.com or www.thequeensplayers.com

Posted 6:35 pm, October 10, 2011
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