By William Wolf

THE BURIAL AT THEBES  Send This Review to a Friend

The noted Irish poet Seamus Heaney, seeing modern parallels involving power and misbegotten decisions, adapted the Sophocles tragedy “The Burial at Thebes,” and director Charlotte Moore has staged an Irish Repertory Theatre production of the interpretation. The good news is that the writing and staging adhere to the original period with reliance on the audience to get the meaning of the work without any misguided attempt to transfer Sophocles into a modern setting.

The set design by Tony Walton is wisely simple, a row of ropes from ceiling to stage, and two of what passes for rocks. There is a reddish lighting glow that is quite a coup at the beginning (lighting design by Brian Nason). And apart from some strategically placed drum beats (sound design by Zach Williamson), the rest is left to the excellent actors, who speak with great clarity whether talking to each other or addressing the audience in classic style and are costumed (design by Linda Fisher) according to what we expect in a Greek tragedy.

Moore’s direction is excellent, avoiding unnecessary movement and keeping tight focus on the impressive dialogue and the passion unleashed in the conflict that erupts. The result is command of audience attention during the mesmerizing 70 minutes of the intermission-less drama.

The plot is touched off by the mean-spirited and irrational decree of Creon, the ruler of Thebes, that Polyneices, whom he calls a traitor, not be given the proper burial according to tradition but that his body be left to be torn apart by wild animals.

Antigone, the sister of Polyneices, is infuriated, and she is played with fierce anger and determination by Rebekah Brockman. It is a stirring performance. Even though Antigone knows she will be given a death sentence by Creon for defying his order, Antigone carries through with her determination to honor her brother by burying him, as she believes the gods would have it. Her sister Ismene at first takes an opposite stance, believing that it is foolhardy to go against Creon. Katie Fabel plays Ismene with conviction in another admirable performance.

Paul O’Brien, strong in voice and manner, makes a powerful Creon, sure in the correctness of what he has proclaimed and ordered, and then frantic when he sees the destructiveness of his misguided decision, although it is too late to undo the damage he has wrought.

There is a touching scene between the condemned Antigone and Creon’s son Haemon, who loves her and is played convincingly by Ciarán Bowling. Haemon has argued with his father and urged him to retract his order for Antigone’s death. Moore provides a sensitive directorial touch when Haemon and Antigone meet in a farewell moment. They greet each other in silence, while other cast members turn their backs to provide them privacy.

The directorial success lies in Moore’s confidence in Heaney’s interpretation and expressive writing and the ability of her cast to extract the most out of their speeches with the inherent passion that steadily comes across. Everyone in the ensmble deserves praise, and that includes Rod Brogan as the Messenger, Winsome Brown as Eurydice, Colin Lane as Guard, and Robert Langdon Lloyd as Tiresias. Score the production as another distinguished contribution by the Irish Repertory Theatre. At its temporary home during renovations, DR 2 Theatre, 103 East 15th Street. Phone: 212-727-2737. Reviewed January 29, 2016.


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