Antigone | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Curiouser and curiouser: watching Big Dance Theater's version of Sophocles' Antigone, you might well feel you've fallen down the rabbit hole. Mac Wellman's text is as logical/illogical as Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland: made up largely of riddles, paradoxes, and tautologies, it also includes weighty pronouncements, aphorisms (mangled and straight), and throwaway lines. "The city is covered in mud," one goes. "We hope it's mud," goes another. Five performers play all the roles: four women enact the four Fates (yes, four) as well as Antigone, Creon, and Tiresias, while a bald, bearded man is a sort of radio announcer-cum-buffoonish god. When he declaims at one point, "I am the Shriek Operator," it's like nothing so much as Frank Morgan pronouncing "I am the great and terrible Oz" accompanied by cheesy flashing lights. Perhaps Wellman (and/or director Paul Lazar) intends a Wizard of Oz connection: the women often chatter and giggle in Munchkin voices. Set "at the beginning of time," this Antigone features a cappella songs by Cynthia Hopkins, anachronistic props (a long-handled vacuum cleaner for tidying up the "death clothing," a stuffed toy riding on a skateboard), and choreography by Annie-B Parson. Chicagoans may remember her work from Big Dance Theater's appearance here three years ago, in an adaptation of Gustave Flaubert's "A Simple Heart." That dancing was subtle, dramatic, and served the story, but the dancing here's just plain simple--and there's not much of it. In a repeated motif, the women skip in a circle, then bow. According to the text, this represents both "the dance of chance and of distance" and "the dance of what is outside language," plus a lot else, I guess, because it reappears many times. Ultimately there's a sharp disconnect between the piece's silliness and its intended tragic dimensions (press materials mention "meaningful values for a post 9/11 world"). So when Antigone offers a sort of blessing near the end--"Let there be spiders and eggs and hats and gods"--it has no emotional force whatsoever. Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago, 312-397-4010. February 27-29: Friday-Saturday, 7:30 PM; Sunday, 3 PM. $22. Note: A discussion with the artists follows Friday's show.

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