Theatre Coup d’Etat’s adaptation of “Antigone” begins with a motionless tableau, the actors ranged across the sanctuary of SpringHouse Ministry Center in postures frozen mid-action. Simple draped tunics, angular gestures and carefully painted faces conjure an ancient frieze. Then, at the snap of fingers, the spell is broken and the statues spring to life. As this production unfolds over the next 90 minutes, however, that striking opening image keeps lurking beneath the surface.
Sophocles’ tragedy grapples with the lofty issues of civil disobedience and the authority of the state vs. the dictates of religion. But this ancient play is also about family and the havoc that can be wreaked within its confines. Meagan Kedrowski’s adaptation emphasizes the family aspect as the traumatized children of the ill-fated King Oedipus play out the final act of the curse he placed upon them.
“Antigone” begins in the aftermath of civil war. Oedipus’ two sons have killed each other in a fight for the crown of Thebes. Their uncle Creon, desperate to restore order, declares that Eteocles will receive holy burial while his brother Polyneices is left unburied at the gates of the city — a stark reminder of his betrayal. Their sister Antigone (played by Lauren Diesch) can’t accept this desecration. Knowing full well it will result in her own death, she determines to bury him according to the edicts of Greek religion so his soul may rest.
Kedrowski, who also directs, relates this tale through powerful, ritual-infused scenes that are heightened by Adam Scarpello’s fight choreography and a percussive soundscape provided by Sarah Dewhirst and Steve Modena. In perhaps the production’s most striking moment, the final battle of the civil war unfolds like a carefully wrought ballet of grim ferocity and explosive grace as Polyneices and Eteocles battle to their deaths.
A strong ensemble charts a careful course between the production’s stylization and its warmer human side. Diesch’s Antigone in particular offers a poignant sense of the conflicted loyalties and damage that characterize the relationships among these four siblings. Other standouts include Jayme Godding’s Ismene, who is desperate to halt her sister’s tragic trajectory, and Kelly Nelson in a comic turn as a bumbling guard.
Theatre Coup d’Etat’s thoughtful approach to “Antigone” juxtaposes the rituals of fate and sacrifice against the wounded family dynamic at the heart of this play. The results are powerful.
Lisa Brock is a Twin Cities theater critic.