“I’m not entirely certain what I just saw, but I think it was kind of awesome.”
This sentence, uttered to me by my wife upon emerging from Salvage Vanguard Theater’s newest production “Antigonick” (playing through April 6 at the Dougherty Arts Center), sums up the performance perhaps better than anything else. The adaptation of Sophocles’ “Antigone,” written by Anne Carson, takes the basic framework of the Greek tragedy and turns it into an experimental performance piece full of gorgeous, elliptical moments of theatrical genius.
“Antigonick” is what might be called “experimental” theater in the best way possible. What we see on stage might not always make literal sense, but there isn’t a moment that the production isn’t engaging, interesting and strangely beautiful. Director Diana Lynn Small is inventive in how she puts her transformative cast through a series of scenes exploring the possibilities of performance, mixing low comedy with high tragedy and an overwhelming aesthetic of strange beauty.
The central voice of the play is that of Antigone, played with deep strength and probing wisdom by Megan Tabaque. From the show’s first moments—staged outside of the theater—she is a meta-narrator, taking part in the action while commenting on the play’s history, its various translations and iterations, and the academic/critical commentary about it through the ages. Paige Tautz, as the Greek chorus, is a kind of twin narrative voice, the judge of all the action who critiques it through speech, song and exaggerated physicality.
As Antigone’s foil, the Theban ruler Kreon, Jay Byrd frequently steals the show through a series of physical and psychological contortions that entertain, frighten and create a sense of the bizarre and grotesque. On the opposite end of the spectrum is the staid and stately Rachel Long as “Nick,” a silent, looming, ominous measurer of time and space, a constant reminder of the larger cosmic and historical scope of the play’s central tragedy.
All of this takes place on an ingenious stage (designed by Lisa Laratta) that resembles a fashion runway, leading to a multitude of gorgeous lighting situations crafted by Natalie George underscored by moody music by Henna Chou. The technical aspects of “Antigonick” are just as deliciously specific as the actors’ choices, with an overriding sense of the deliberately bizarre meant to evoke an emotional state of the uncanny.
I have deliberately refrained from discussing the plot points of “Antigonick” because in many ways the narrative is the least important aspect of this production. It is a piece of gorgeous theater to become lost in, to find fascination with, to appreciate the tonal mastery of, and the story is almost secondary. As a piece of gorgeous, inventive theatrical innovation, what matters here is more deeply emotional than it is intellectual.
Though you may not quite know what “Antigonick” is trying to tell you, it is the masterful voice of the speaker that ultimately matters here, and not the words themselves.