Regional Reviews: St. Louis
I saw Ms. Cashion's Oedipus Apparatus three times in 2017. It was dazzling: crammed with hilarious modern media references, but ruled by the clockwork of tragedy. Two years later, in Antigone, the humor is much cooler, and Sophocles' ancient images and tirades are fractured into riddling glimpses of a faraway timelike shadows on the far wall of a cave, cast by unseen figures behind us. And from this we must deduce the true nature of the world. The seven actresses on stage at the Chapel on Alexander face off in threatening friezes, like dueling mantises.
Alicen Moser plays Antigone #1 and also autocratic King Creon in (perhaps) a bit of ironic casting. She was the only Antigone in Ms. Cashion's Oedipus Apparatus, reimagined as a youthful inventor. But in 2019, this Creon is sometimes reduced to unintelligible roaring (like the shadows of reason) over each new act of defiance by the other Antigones around her. Eventually, she (Creon's niece, the offspring of Oedipus and Jocasta) is crystallized into the person of one single actress, Miranda Jagels-Félix. But her own native accent also muddles things in some of their confrontations.
In those moments, everything seems to become a compelling primal scream. And (intentionally or not) the picture that's created on stage suggests that we make our own tragedies, with our own unintelligible demands on the Universe, and on each other, and on ourselves (because here they're allon some levelthe same character). Compounding the power of fate, each Antigone here is a daunting chimera: part princess (who faces death for burying her brother, after a failed rebellion) and part something elseusually something awful. This new retelling is a collaboration between the Slightly Askew Theatre Ensemble and Equally Represented Arts and is occasionally a commentary on our present moment. Everyone is pushed to extremes, as Ms. Moser realizes when she roars that "no one wins when no one can be in the middle!"
This Antigone begins with its own creation myth, retelling how this production came out of the "Prison Performing Arts" program in central Missouri. That's the first third of the play, with the actresses wearing beige prison clothes, and brainstorming ideas about death and fate and more, in an age where those terms seem remote. The modern group sessions resemble Plato's cave allegory, with inmates trapped behind prison walls and fumbling to understand something beyond their ken: Sophocles' own themes from about 441 B.C. When the classic tale gets underway, what you're hearing and what you're seeing will be two different things. And, like these prisoners, we must guess at what each fleeting image may represent.
Ellie Schwetye becomes the boy who must tell Creon of every defiant thing done by the princess, though it's handled in a modern media sort of way, with the character becoming a laconic stand-up comic. Taleesha Caturah grows surprisingly mythic playing the blind visionary Tiresias. And Natasha Toro, as Queen Eurydice, turns languid and funny, even as she tries to inject a note of reason into the midst of the fray. Also cooling things off, a girl-group of singers "doo-wop" in the background at the worst possible moments, to deflect our cynical nature away from the deepening tragedy at center stage.
But the ultimate effect is of a channel-changing culture where people can't deal with the facts. As a result, true righteousness is entombed in ridicule by the passing parade. As with another ERA production, Trash Macbeth (from 2016), every one of us becomes a tragic figure, trapped and mocked by shadows.
Antigone, through August 31, 2019 at the Chapel on Alexander, 6238 Alexander Drive, St. Louis MO. For more information call 314-827-5760 or visit www.slightlyoff.org.