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Fire Throws

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

Erica Berg and Laura Butler.
Photo by Richard Finkelstein.

Earth's first rock star has never lost her relevance. Antigone, that rebellious daughter of Oedipus who was sealed into a cave for attempting to bury her dead brother despite her uncle-king Creon's decree to the contrary, has for centuries been considered a symbol of sensible protest against the shadowy unjust. Perhaps even too much so: Has the real woman been lost amid adoration of her celebrity and her sacrifice? That's the basic premise behind Fire Throws, Rachel Dickstein's heavily stylistic, heavily choreographed, and heavy-duty reconstruction of Sophocles's version of the age-old myth.

Considered on a strictly literal level, Dickstein doesn't prove her thesis. Her collision of two versions of the woman, the one who was then (Laura Butler) and the one who is today (Erica Berg), asks the question but skates around the answer, eventually leading the play down a road not unlike most other modern adaptations of the story. (One of these, Too Much Memory, was seen at last year's Fringe Festival and subsequently Off-Broadway.) But if the story's specifics don't entirely satisfy, its visual interpretation almost completely does.

Sophocles's chorus of Theban elders has been reenvisioned as the doomed girl's peers, a group from which her sister Ismene (Kimiye Corwin), her boyfriend Haemon (Jorge Rubio), and the others in her life - except for Creon (John Campion) - will eventually emerge. They move as she does, or as she should: in tight, coordinated motions. Now they leap, now they skip, now they're bounding in a circle or forming a complicated undulating circle that could have spun right out of a Las Vegas revue. They're even clad in yards of clinging and billowy red (by costume designer Oana Botez-Ban), just as the Antigones are.

Their movement (which has been heavily derived from Balinese styles and coordinated by Patty Gallagher) brands them as a community, and Antigone as both participant and outsider. Watching her step away from her countrymen, you understand immediately what she's sacrificing, and what the dangers are: It's easy to disappear in a throng, and if you can't identify the forms moving about the dim periphery of Tyler Micoleau's lighting you'll never know whether you're ignoring or scorning your family, your lover, or your ruler.

But as Antigone's resolve solidifies, and as the group's motions grow stranger and more foreign - what was once expressions of animal joy are now the figurative bars of the heroine's holding cell - the terror of groupthink and the even more frightening rejection of it come into startling focus. The rhythm of Antigone's existence is morphing, distilling, dissolving, unstoppable until it's subsumed not just her, but Haemon, Creon, and even the queen Eurydice (Paula McGonagle). Even if everyone else is waltzing without you, you never truly dance alone.

Fire Throws begins and ends in that cave, behind the boulder that officially separates the world from the imprisoned Antigone, as well as in the woman's tortured mind in its final moments of life. But it's primarily concerned with individual and collective freedom and how that's interpreted by those both in the know and outside of it. Dickstein's script is not especially creative in addressing this, but her direction of it - with the Antigones overlapping each other's dialogue at strategic moments, and with some astonishing stage pictures that splash your eyes with the very essence of the chaos into which Thebes is sinking - is startlingly adept at making two millennia worth of history up-to-the-moment trenchant.

Maya Ciarrocchi's video and projections - which feature a boomingly ghostly Teiresias (Juliana Francis-Kelly) and a number of filmic special effects - threaten to diminish the performers who for the most part blaze with life. The exception is Campion's Creon, who's so hysterically affected he seems more removed from the human race than he does from the impact of his self-serving laws. But the others are marvelously intense, with everyone demonstrating how their own characters are, in a sense, no less trapped within their societal roles than is Antigone within that cave.

Neither the young and spirited Butler nor the more mature and clearer-eyed Berg conveys confinement, however. That's how it should be. Both women, tapping into Antigone's conscience and will to define either her era or our own, are bracingly unapologetic, accepting their roles as inevitabilities but never restricting them from becoming more. This, it ultimately becomes evident, is how Dickstein believes timeless icons are made: from actions that magnify one's own concerns to a country- or globe-spanning scale. That makes Fire Throws, like Antigone before it, a fitting tale for our time or for any other.

Fire Throws
Through March 28
3LD Art & Technology Center, 80 Greenwich Street, just below Rector Street
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: 3LD Art & Technology Center

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