NEXT WAVE FESTIVAL
Brooklyn Academy of Music
BAM Harvey Theater
651 Fulton St. between Ashland & Rockwell Pl.
Through October 4, $30-$135
A chill runs through Belgian director Ivo van Hove’s adaptation of Sophokles’s classic tragedy Antigone, continuing through October 4 at BAM’s Harvey Theater. The sizzling-hot van Hove, who has dazzled audiences and critics alike with his recent, unusual presentations of Scenes from a Marriage, Angels in America, and Cries and Whispers, has stripped down the tale of power, family, loyalty, and responsibility in a new translation by Canadian poet Anne Carson (Agamemnon, Electra) that emphasizes the story’s relevance to today’s politics. As the play opens, Antigone (Juliette Binoche, who was last at BAM in 2009 in In-I), clad in black, is fighting off a brisk wind with her sister, Ismene (Kirsty Bushell). Their two brothers have killed each other in the Theban civil war fighting on opposite sides, Eteocles a hero, Polyneices a traitor. The new king, Kreon (Patrick O’Kane), has decreed that Polyneices’s body should be left outside to rot, but Antigone is determined to give her sibling a proper burial, although the punishment for doing so is death. Upon discovering that his niece and future daughter-in-law — Antigone’s father was Kreon’s brother, and she is engaged to marry Kreon’s son, Haimon (Samuel Edward-Cook) — has indeed buried Polyneices, Kreon shows no mercy, commanding Antigone’s execution, as well as that of anyone who supports her. Kreon’s chief adviser, Teiresias (Finbar Lynch), wants him to rethink his position, but Kreon is just as stubborn as Antigone, and it doesn’t take long for the bodies to start piling up.
Jan Versweyveld’s stage features a giant circle at the top of the back wall that rotates to reveal a projection of sky and clouds, as if the gods are looking down, judging the trials and tribulations of humanity. In the center of the floor is a rectangular platform that sinks to serve as a grave, lowering Polyneices and Antigone down toward hell and rising up again; it is perpendicular to a narrow walkway and opening used by Kreon, as if he is emerging from the lair of the gods. At the front of the stage is a leather couch, congruent with the costumes by An d’Huys — the men are mainly in suits and jackets as if attending a board meeting. Binoche and O’Kane make fine adversaries, though Antigone shouts too much, and Kreon changes moods a little too randomly. All of the actors except for O’Kane also double as the Greek chorus, who never speak as a unit. Carson’s script contains several contemporary phrases that elicit chuckles from the audience at inopportune moments, and Tal Yarden’s projections are hit-or-miss; the scenes of the vast desert work well, while video of ghostly figures making their way through a present-day city is confusing and feels out of place, though the last shot is effective. Meanwhile, the score weaves in and out of music by Morton Feldman, Arvo Pärt, Henryk Gorecki, and Dmitri Shostakovich before concluding with a sonic blast from longtime BAM favorite Lou Reed as van Hove attempts to relate this story of the state vs. the individual to the twenty-first century. Overall, he only partly succeeds, but by never quite providing the audience with an emotional connection to the characters or narrative, this Antigone will leave you feeling a little too cold. (The September 29 performance will be followed by a talk with Binoche and other members of the company, free for same-day ticket holders.)