With its vivacious chorus, original score, live orchestra, Balinese dance, aerial choreography, and video projections, Fire Throws invokes layered, mythic grandeur in retelling Sophocles' Antigone. Yet, narrated by an older, wiser, introspective Antigone, the production is oddly reminiscent of the final scenes of Our Town. That juxtaposition makes the play well situated within the current off-Broadway season. A Chicago transplant of Thorton Wilder’s Our Town opens this month downtown at Barrow Street Theatre while adaptations of the Greeks are enjoying representation on a number of New York stages this year. The New Group’s production of Mourning Becomes Electra, Eugene O’Neill’s epic reimagination of Aeschylus’s Orestia which sets the play cycle in Post-Civil War New England, also opened this month. Rising Pheonix’s Antigone adaptation, Too Much Memory, which drew heavily on both Sophocles’ text and Jean Anouilh’s 1944 adaptation of it, as well as other sources, earned raves in December at New York Theatre Workshop. Now the cultural prevalence of iconic Greek characters is itself the subject of interdisciplinary theater company Ripe Time's Fire Throws.
The production's intrapsychic interpretation of Antigone posits that Antigone's contemporary status as cultural icon is among the most dynamic aspects of the Sophocles play, yet Fire Throws never fully makes good on that supposition. Erica Berg leads the production with disciplined calm as “Antigone who is” or, as described by writer-director Rachel Dickstein, “the 2400 symbol she has become, looking back on her story and searching for the person inside the icon.”
Berg creates appropriate contrast with “Antigone who was,” imbued by Laura Butler with the youthful, passionate righteousness traditionally ascribed to the character. Yet contrast between the two Antigones never develops beyond that static dissimilarity. Antigone reliving her story from the outside functions less as a cathartic device than as a narrative one.
Happily, the story she narrates is a unique, graciously rendered depiction of the drama. Under Dickstein’s direction, the crossing of multiple disciplines creates a textured, cohesive whole that enhances the epic nature of the story. Jewlia Eisenberg’s original score, performed by music ensemble Charming Hostess, creates a soundscape that both accompanies the production’s Balinese-inflected choreography as well as its spoken-word scenes. Striking lighting, designed by Tyler Micoleau, adds splashes of bright color to Susan Zeeman Rogers’ set design.
In nearly every scene, the athletic chorus maintains a watchful presence, with occasional performers stepping out of the chorus to play the familiar characters of the drama. Kimiye Corwin delivers a well-drawn performance as Antigone’s pragmatic sister Ismene while the rest of the chorus frames their interaction. In the following scene, she and Antigone watch as the chorus performs a heated dance of the mythic battle that killed their brothers. Having characters witness their story unfold before them enhances the production’s emphasis on the fact that the drama is widely known. It also makes Berg’s presence as the omniscient Antigone less obtrusive than it might otherwise be. When she comments on the dramatic action or addresses its participants, her interjections feel organic rather than incongruous.
Video projections, designed by Maya Ciarrocchi, literally cast larger than life images of Creon, the ruler, and Tiresias, the seer. A particularly evocative image early in the play shows Creon upstage, delivering the story’s central edict, while Antigone, downstage of him, runs in place in disobedience of it. Across the backdrop, we see an enormous silhouette of Creon’s profile and crossing that: Antigone's shadow. The production is at its strongest when using its extensive visual vocabulary to depict mythic conflict in such bold, concise images.
“If you only knew there was more to her than this one act,” says Antigone who was, watching Creon condemn her former self. Yet, for or better or worse, her defiance defines her, and in that respect Fire Throws is no exception. In its vibrant, multidimensional depiction of her story, it’s a remarkable achievement.