Tuesday, June 17, 2008

International Festival of Arts & Ideas

Festival’s ‘Thebes’ at Long Wharf exemplary

By E. Kyle Minor
— To paraphrase Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, art may be difficult to define, but one knows it when one sees it. Look then no further than the Nottingham Playhouse Theatre Company’s production of "The Burial at Thebes," Nobel prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney’s lean and accessible translation of Sophocles’ "Antigone," continuing its U.S. premiere through Thursday at Long Wharf Theatre. The 2,450-year-old play, in the deft hands of all involved, resonates as truthfully and concisely as when the Stoics were in day care.
This opening ace of this year’s International Festival of Arts & Ideas, which follows critically hailed runs at London’s Barbican Centre and Dublin’s Theater Festival, crystalizes Sophocles’ accurate riffs on hubris, fanaticism and the abuse of power on one hand, and following one’s conscience regardless of the consequences on the other. Heaney’s graceful touch also accents the playwright’s underlying repulsion to sexism.
Director Lucy Pitman-Wallace and her seamless 10-person ensemble somehow manage to transport their audience to ancient Thebes (thanks to Jessica Curtis’ quintessentially simple yet versatile set design and toga costumes), while confronting today’s heated and divisive political issues (read the war in Iraq) head-on.
Paul Basham’s Creon, Thebes’ head of state who declares his dead nephew Polyneices unfit for burial after fighting against the state, doesn’t suggest any Western world leaders, but his actions and rhetoric do. Then again, they resound with the words and deeds of such leaders as Woodrow Wilson and countless others through the ages. Best of all is how Basham portrays Creon as a man who, regardless of how demented he may seem to others, believes his intentions to be honorable, rather than mere bullying.
Catherine Hamilton’s Antigone, who defies Creon’s decree and buries her beloved brother, epitomizes the moral fortitude that we all wish we possessed for standing up in opposition in the face of certain death to an ill-conceived, man-made law. When the audience is willing to join Antigone in her death cave, you know that Hamilton and her fellow actors have done something right.
The company flashes another neat example of magic as its principal characters emerge from the traditional Greek Chorus with the simplest technique and without calling attention to themselves.
Nottingham Playhouse’s production of "The Burial at Thebes" works on all levels and is exemplary theater: no self-aggrandizing tricks, yet purely magical.
The productions runs 8 tonight and Thursday, 2 and 8 p.m. Wednesday. Tickets, $10-$38, available at (203) 562-5666 or www.artidea.org.
E. Kyle Minor of Danbury is a freelance writer.

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