Off-Broadway Theater Review: ANTIGONE (BAM Harvey Theater)

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by Dmitry Zvonkov on September 27, 2015

in Theater-New York


In Anne Carson’s crisp new translation of Sophkles’ Antigone, the great Juliette Binoche embodies the title character, a young woman who breaks the law under penalty of death to do what she knows to be morally right. Staged in the present, the answer to why director Ivo van Hove’s revival is relevant today lies within the performances; we see Antigone relatively briefly, but in those moments, which Binoche plays with the power, immediacy and emotional availability we’ve come to expect from her, we can guess at the vast, rich life she has outside of our view. It’s the characters’ unseen lives, their shadows, with their contemporary clothes and contemporary ways, all made so vivid by Mr. van Hove’s terrific cast, that give his staging of the ancient Greek work its raison d’être.


Despite its title, Antigone is in fact Kreon’s play. Antigone’s uncle, Kreon (an outstanding Patrick O’Kane) becomes King of Thebes after her brothers, Eteocles and Polynices, kill each other in battle. He immediately decrees that Eteocles, as the city’s defender, is to be buried with all honors, while Polynices, as a traitor who attacked Thebes, is to be left unburied and unmourned. When Antigone disobeys Kreon and buries her brother, her uncle sentences her to death.


Mr. O’Kane’s Kreon moves through space like a razor—a decent man made dangerous by his limitations and his pride. We sense that he might have been a good administrator, but in this situation he’s lost; he senses he’s made a mistake, which makes him dig his heels in all the more. So robust is Mr. O’Kane’s performance that we can guess things about his character which are not in the play, like what his bathroom looks like, or what kind of book he might have on his nightstand, or what kind of TV shows he likes. This allows us to place this Kreon in our lives—he’s someone we know at the office, a family member we see on Thanksgiving, a politician we watch on TV—and magically Sophoklean ideas presented in a stylized form two and a half millennia ago cease being abstractions and turn real and immediate.


Mr. van Hove makes excellent use of Jan Versweyveld’s spare set and subtly changing lighting, as well as Tal Yarden’s video projections and Daniel Freitag’s moving audio compositions, to create a sense of hard terrain, a desert, both physical and existential. There is gravity to the playing space which echoes the gravity of what is happening in it. And while Mr. van Hove’s Antigone isn’t a masterpiece, it is an excellent show, a work of art, inspired, thoughtful, in which everything clicks, and which stays with you after the performance is over.


The excellent cast includes: Obi Abili, Kirsty Bushell, Samuel Edward-Cook, Finbar Lynch, Kathryn Pogson, Nathaniel Jackson.


photos by Stephanie Berger

Barbican and Les Théâtres de la Ville de Luxembourg
BAM Harvey Theater
ends on October 4, 2015
for tickets, call 718.636.4100 or visit

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