I am posting this blog just as hot as I can get it... in terms of immediacy; not in terms of its content. Because the content of this content was not hot either. I take my time before putting my thoughts in the 'emotions recollected in tranquility' style, but this one has to take the cake. I am posting in a hurry lest I forget the emotions. Simply because the event was very forgettable.A few days back I stared the bullet in its barrel point by posting that egregious post on Chapter Two of Neil Simon, sent into Chapter Eleven by Evam. Now, hot on its heels, from the same venue comes Antigone by Jean Anouilh - the French adapation of the Greek legend.
Antigone has been through playwrights from Greece to South Africa. Antigone has been a special tragedy even in comparison to its sibling classics Electra and Medea. The reason: the tragedy of Antigone is all about political expediency, power and the dignity of human emotion in the face of adversity that threatens to suppress individual democratic freedom in the name of authoritarian edicts. Unlike Electra, who breathes fire and brimstone in words before steering her brother Orestes to take revenge on behalf of her father Aegisthus who was murdered in the bath by the latter's own wife Clytemnestra, Antigone seeks to bring respect and decorum to a personal tragedy fomented on people as public calumny; unlike Medea who seeks to revenge her husband Jason for slighting her by taking another wife (Glauke, daughter of Kreon) and who kills Glauke, breaks Kreon's heart, kills her own two children before taking flight into the skies to join her grandfather Sun God, Antigone seeks to redress a ceremonial wrong.
Antigone's story is one that elevates and restores human faith in goodness. She tries after all to give a decent burial to the dead body of her brother Polyneikes, who has been condemned as the Enemy of the State by their Uncle Kreon (who retained the right to rule even after the power of attorney wore on his when both Eteocles and Polyneikes demanded their right to ascend their father Oedipus' throne!). Her argument is this: Polyneikes may be the enemy of the state and her other brother Eteocles may be a state hero. Both died and Eteocles got a burial of state honour. Polyneikes did not. To her both are brothers and they did her no wrong. And it is her duty in the absence of her father Oedipus and mother Jocasta and at the indifference of her sister Ismene, to give Polyneikes the denied burial. Even if it is against the order of the state. How can the public intrude into the private life? This is the conflict that makes the story of ANTIGONE worth exploring as a subject fit enough for any sort of literary or oral narrative. The personal and the public at lightsabers at each other. And the subject has gone through thorough treatment by everyone from Sophocles to Holderlin and Brecht to Anouilh.
Recently, the Stella Maris College decided to stage Anouilh's version of ANTIGONE as their annual theatre production. Directed by Deesh Mariwala, it went on stage for performance from 10th to 12th February. And I had the misfortune of witnessing the performance on 12th. I am not ashamed to say that I walked with still half hour to go. About 36 hours back, I had talked to a member of the cast that I knew well how the production was and how the premiere night was. I was told that except for some mobile toting, armpits scented bimbos who walked one hour late into the show and walked half hour late, the show was good. Wishing her luck and obliging some friends at Stella, I went to see the show.
Anouilh treats the play with certain freshness that makes you sit back and say, "Hey, this guy is not using the story to his own ideological purposes. He is no Holderlin who romantices the language, he is no Brecht who used it for his agit-prop purposes by placing the locale in the Nazi bunkers of the WW-II, he is no Athol Fugard who uses it launch a dialectics of South African apartheid! Anouilh's treatment pits a side of Kreon which we had not seen till now - the human who cares for Antigone... who cares for his son Hamon... who like a subversive Shakuni (who took to supporting Kauravas so that he could avenge the death of his own brothers killed by the Kurus in their launch against Gandhar Desh and thus bring the downfall of the Kuru vamsh) decides to run his political course even though he had inherited the throne upon compulsion. And he pleads to Antigone, saying "Go home, forget what happened, I shall remove those guards who arrested you so no trace of this FIR exists". But Antigone is young and brash and obstinate and rush-of-blood-idealist who would not relent. She seeks death in the name of taking up a stand that Kreon finds amusingly painful. Kreon has traversed through experiences. He is worldly wise and realistic. Thus the stage is set for a battle royale, as they call it. The tension present in the story, the inherent conflict that can arm an impotent soldier to confrontative levels is humongous. And that is why I was frustrated and furious. The Stella production has wasted an opportunity to the stupid stress busting world of hahahas what the real power of theatre can be!
The lead pairs were not as bad as college actors can be. They looked promising. The caged tightness of Antigone's (Varsha) body language was well confronted by a confident Kreon (Padmini). That was to start with. That was upon Kreon's introduction. But soon Antigone became flat as horse-piss in a can of overnight out-fizzed Beck's you get supplied in in-flight Lufthansa and was stuck to those hunched shoulders and arrested lung-pipe between her head and shoulders! She moved stereotypically through the one and half hour that I managed to stay. I saw more of her gluteous than her face and got an occasional darshan of her hair. As for Kreon, the girl has a voice box to be proud of. But it gets monotonous when there is no inflection beyond 5 degrees of emotions. As it wore on, there was nothing happening, the plot leading nowhere. This is the expand version of story-telling, there was no advancement of narrative. And when there is a minimalist (read zero) set approach and a few stools and chairs and a lone table as excuse for props and furns, you better put up a strong whiskey in the vat! The poison did manage to gulch the throat for starters... but the burn soon turned to be a bite on the tongue, the rasping vanished to bland oat.
I have heard of Deesh's attempt to do physical theatre workshops... and I got a glimpse of his physical theatre today. Well, physical theatre is not one character-player exhibiting pseudo-sadism through painful measures such as arm-twisting and booting the small of the co-actor's back. I just didn't hear too many sympathetic oohs and ouchs from the meagre audience in support of Antigone when Kreon inflicted third-degree on her. If you had seen Shared Experience Theatre's work that had toured this city enough, you would understand what I mean. As it went on, the play gathered dust instead of storm-signs. Redundant moves, repetitive emotional responses, regressive flatness of lighting lead to recognition of residual pains in my bladders, coercing me to preclude the loneliness of my corner at Pethachi and run for the remedial release of bladder-fluids into the pan-pots of the Gents Toilet. Having come out of the cold auditorium raised to freezing temperatures due to a lack of full-house warm bodies adorning those cushy seats, I did not want to get back. The lighting console supplier's technicians sitting outside warned me "another half hour to go". Well... I ran for my bike. Here I am posting the message.
This really is bad publicity for serious theatre in city and doesn't definitely enhance the reputation of the Stella Maris theatre oeuvres. A good script laid waste due to lack of tension, tempo and temerity to explore a passe East-European inquisition ambience! The costumes though were paid detailed attention to. That perhaps is the only saving grace. But when the bride is not worthy of a lay what use are the accoutrements, pray tell?
Picking Bones: The Chess playing One-woman Chorus started saying Ismene (ismean) twice and went back to correcting herself to Is-me-nee thrice before lapsing to Ismene once (which could have been tail-dropping) that means inconsistency of either pronunciation or breathing. Kreon missed and stammered over lines, bad idea to keep a profile right in the middle of the ramp and use as foot light to light the chorus' face. I have been through this heinous act on actors - as a victim that is - and it is not a very enjoyable experience to have a light right on your face when you're addressing the audience. Deesh's fetish for torches continues. Between the Cats he did at BC a while back and now, only the batteries probably have changed. It just was too much of wasted effort to impressive the audience with cheap-seat minds for small-time creative artifices. And of course, the much vaunted threat of locked doors did not work to keep the EMI exodus of disgruntled audience. And the cellphones never stopped ringing. That means, am gonna come up with an audience-etiquette post shortly!