The vast interior of downtown L.A.’s “original” subway building is a bare, ominous-looking, many-columned cavern that has been turned into a performance arena for the Cornerstone Theater Co.’s updated look at the plight of Sophocles’ rebellious heroine Antigone (Page Leong). This lady has been a popular icon for anarchy over the years, having been utilized by Bertolt Brecht and Jean Anouilh. Adapter-director Shishir Kurup chooses to bury her tale under a plethora of multimedia cacophony. He is so intent on bombarding the audience with meaningful sights and sounds that he sacrifices the most basic element of any production: the story. Unfortunately, whenever the ensemble does get around to moving the plot along, their self-conscious “indicating” becomes as off-putting as Kurup’s irrelevant original songs.
Though updated to a futuristic Los Angeles, the basic elements of Sophocles’ tale are still in place, if hard to find. The former United States has downsized into a series of conglomerates, including the West Coast corporation known as CAN (California, Arizona, Nevada), over which media mogul turned dictator Krayon (Bernard White) presides.
The ruler’s niece, popular singer-songwriter Antigone, is supposed to marry his son, successful E-trade analyst Hayman (Joseph Grimm). Her brothers, Eteocles and Polynices, opposed one another in battle and both died in an attempt to overthrow Krayon. Eteocles was given a state funeral, but Krayon ordered the body of rebellious Polynices to be dumped on Pershing Square to rot, forbidding anyone to bury the fallen warrior. Naturally, Antigone buries her brother and is ordered put to death by her uncle.
Kurup’s opening images show promise. Mounted video cameras blare a state-controlled newscast proclaiming “Fryyyyyday Night” live executions, a report on the government’s “one strike and you’re out” edict, and a news-ending affirmation that everyone is responsible for reporting software piracy. The production never truly escalates from that point.
The nonstop monotonous videotaping and freeze-framing of character interactions by a camcorder-wielding, one-person Greek Korus (Peter Howard) is so intrusive it stops functioning as a vehicle for communication and becomes a show unto itself. And the vast space of the Subway Building doesn’t facilitate any directorial point of view, though it does give more room for the actors to run around.
Then there is the meaningless, self-indulgent Pirandellian nonsense wherein the actor Howard decides to end the play prematurely, thereby saving Antigone and Hayman (who is supposed to commit suicide), giving everyone a feel-good ending. Naturally, the Korus’ camcorder follows him into the actors’ dressing room where the whole ensemble gangs up on poor Howard, forcing him to get back into his Krayon persona to complete Sophocles intended tragedy. And when Antigone finally does get around to hanging herself to avoid being buried alive, Kurup keeps the sight-and-sound circus going an extra 10 minutes just to make sure the audience “gets it.”
The production designs of Christopher Acebo (sets, costumes), Geoff Korf (lights), Paul James (sound) and John J. Flynn (video), quite competently accomplish their task of distracting the audience from the play.