Pulling off Greek tragedy in style

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By Doug Deuchler

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I've often mentioned how lucky we are in this community that, in addition to our wonderful local professional theater venues, we also have several universities producing high-caliber shows at very affordable prices. Antigone, a classic Greek tragedy by Sophocles, is the current offering from The Collective of Concordia University Chicago, River Forest. It's a fine production, intensely directed by Brian Fruits, featuring impressive performances by a large and talented cast. The actors consistently maintain the tension of the play. 

I won't go into a full-blown comparison but this ancient Greek tragedy in many ways seems almost a contemporary parable. Antigone, played by Kelsey Schultz, is a passionate and stubborn young woman who challenges the patriarchy and the unfair regime of a dictator. 

The play centers on the family of the recently deceased Oedipus, all of whom are cursed because he killed his father and married his mother. Antigone, the daughter of Oedipus and Jocasta, demands that her slain brother Polyneices receive a proper burial against the wishes of Antigone's uncle, the vain tyrant King Creon, portrayed by Eamon Gonzales. Polyneices fought for the resistance against the powerful king. By Creon's cruel order, the body has been left to rot, unlamented, to be devoured by scavenging wild dogs and crows. 

Burial was extremely important to the Greeks who believed if someone was not properly buried, their spirit would never reach the afterlife. So Antigone's rebellious spirit motivates her, as well as her need for vengeance. She rejects authority and defies her tyrannical uncle in her determination to bury her dead brother. By so doing, she puts her life and her betrothal to King Creon's son Haemon (Noah Dunsmore) at great risk in the process. 

Ismene, Antigone's sister (Michelle Frerking), is lawful and obedient to authority. In a secret meeting she tells her sister she won't help her. 

There is a vociferous chorus of 15 Theban elders, led by Angela Matera, draped in red with their heads covered. Each barefoot chorus member wears a half-mask in the style of the ancient Greek theater. These stunning pieces of art were designed and constructed by director Fruits and Joshua Christ. At first the chorus seems deferential to the king. But ultimately they pledge support to Antigone. They are haunting, unnervingly omniscient.

Despite the fact that she is King Creon's niece and engaged to his son Haemon, Antigone knows she is risking her life to go against the edict of the powerful ruler.

The chorus never stands still as they deliver their lines. They are a graceful but spell-binding presence, weaving, undulating, and ominously punctuating what they're saying with their movements. At times they appear in the aisles. 

Eurydice, Creon's wife, is played by Faith Koenig. Brandon Ellis portrays Teiresias, a blind prophet who chastises King Creon, accusing him of being foolish and corrupt. 

The set design by Christina Leinicke is impressive. 

Leinicke also designed the classical-style Greek costumes. Jonathan Hadley's sound design is especially strong, bridging scenes with clips of regal-sounding music.

The chorus of elders includes Ghaida Aljebreen, Allison Balden, Emil Clausing, Esmeralda Delgado, Nike Dobbs, Oralia Duarte, Aletheia Grossmann, Caitlin Johnson, Asia Lagrow, Angela Matera, Jakob Misey, Gillian Norris, Magdalene Piazza, Jess Smith, and Katie Vazquez.

Three performances of Concordia's strong production of Antigone remain this weekend at Madison Street Theatre in Oak Park.

Catch Sophocles' Greek tragedy "Antigone," performed by The Collective, Friday and Saturday, Oct. 12 and 13, 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, Oct. 14, 3 p.m. $15; $10, students and seniors; $5, Concordia students. Tickets: brownpapertickets.com/event/3450193. Madison Street Theatre, 1010 Madison St., Oak Park. 

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