Doing Greek tragedy takes a certain kind of style. It takes classically trained actors. Ironically in 2004 Irish poet Seamus Heaney wrote The Burial at Thebes, an adaptation of Sophocles’ Antigone, as a response to America’s invasion of Iraq.
The plot begins as Antigone (Rebekah Brockman), the daughter of Oedipus King of Thebes, learns that her two brothers Polyneices and Etocles have killed each other fighting on different sides of a war. Creon (Paul O’Brien), Antigone’s uncle and newly appointed King of Thebes, buries Etocles, who fought on the Theban side of the war, hailing him as a great hero. He refuses to bury Polyneices, proclaiming that any who attempt to defy his wishes will be made an example of, on the grounds that he was a ‘traitor’ fighting on the opposing side in the war. Antigone and her sister Ismene (Katie Fabel) discuss Creon’s new law against the burial of their brother. Antigone is argues that Creon is breaching Divine Law by denying burial to Polyneices. Despite Ismene’s pleading, Antigone heads off alone to enact the burial writs. Caught defying her uncle’s orders, she is punished severely despite being engaged to Creon’s son Haemon (Ciaran Bowling). She is sealed within a tomb and left to die. Creon eventually repents, but by then she has killed herself and is followed in death by Creon’s own son and wife (Winsome Brown), both of whom commit suicide. Creon’s is left a broken and lonely man.
How this has to do with Iraq is beyond me. How this differs from Sophocles version is also a mystery, minus a more poetic updated language.
The cast in the performance I saw was off. Ms. Brockman had laryngitis; so she was just trying to get the words out, forget about acting the role. Mr. O’Brien is lackluster and seems beaten before the tragedies of his own making leave their mark, so the plot just drags. Mr. Bowling and the comedic Colin Lane as the guard walk a way knowing what they are doing.
Directed by Charlotte Moore, with a barely there set design by Tony Walton, this isn’t the company’s best work.
The Burial at Thebes: Irish Repertory Theatre at the DR2 Theatre, 103 E. 15th St.
Photo credit: Colin Lane, Rebekah Brockman, Katie Fabel and Paul O’Brien in “The Burial at Thebes” at the Irish Repertory Theater. Credit Carol Rosegg