Sunday, September 27, 2015

Abandoning Antigone

This post is more accurately titled Abandoning Anouilh's Antigone, but that is just too much.

In any case, yesterday was a hard day for me.  I simply crammed too much in.  I went and did the groceries pretty early, then biked to the mall to buy some jeans, but more importantly to have my eyes checked and get a new pair of glasses.  Then I biked to the office and put in maybe half an hour of work before heading up to Bloor to see the free concert at the Telus Centre.  (In the end I didn't care for the Weinberg piece and thought the Mozart clarinet quintet wasn't quite snappy enough, but I did like the Shostakovich piano quintet.)  Then I had to bike back down to the office to wrap up something, head back to the mall to pick up the glasses and finally grab a few more things at the grocery store.  I'm exhausted just reading about it!

I had just enough time to eat and then bike over to Alumnae Theatre to get a ticket for Antigone.  It started out pretty well with an eerie parade of masks brought on stage accompanied by unusual choral music.  However, I found myself really annoyed by the script.  I don't know if it was intentional but Anouilh seemed to be mimicking Brecht in putting so much in the mouth of the Chorus (here an actress wearing not much more than a suit jacket and bra, as if she was the MC in Cabaret!) but I found it really clumsy.  Interestingly, Brecht also tackled Antigone just a few years after Anouilh.  While I might have liked this version better, I suspect it still would feel heavy-handed.  I guess I should read it just to be sure.

Ultimately, that was my problem with the Chorus.  All of the events that would come to be were simply told to us before any of the action started.  Granted, hardly anybody now (and nobody in classical Greece) would not know the broad outline of events, but this over-mediation still felt stilted and prevented me from caring at all about action on stage.  Brecht generally had the same intent of alienating the audience from the action on stage, but he wrote interesting characters despite himself (and of course most directors go in directions that generally soften the critique of society).

I didn't care that much for Anouilh's characters even when they weren't being overshadowed by the Chorus.  I can sort of see what he is trying to do -- ground the tragic in the mundane (the guards talk about getting a bonus for catching Antigone, the nurse wonders if Antigone has taken another lover in addition to Haemon) -- but it didn't work for me.

So I left at the intermission.  I don't think I was the only one either.  I realize this is always an option (and I was surprised at how many people left at the half during Goldsmith's She Stoops to Conquer at Stratford), but it is not one I have exercised until now.  That in itself is pretty astonishing.  It appears I have seen close to 400 plays in my day -- and this is the very first time I have left at intermission because I simply disliked the play so much.  There was the outdoor Hamlet in Cambridge that we abandoned due to the rain, but the production itself was fine and I had hoped that the rain would stop but it never did...

Although there have been a couple of one-acts that I would gladly have left midstream (as it were) but it would have meant disturbing too many people.  And there are definitely a few that I stuck out when I probably would have been better off leaving at the intermission (with Tartuffe being way up there on that list but also most stage adaptations of novels are far too long and unwieldy and ultimately more exhausting than entertaining).

I doubt very much that this will become a habit of mine, but I am (belatedly) starting to realize that going to the theatre is supposed to be for entertainment, not self-improvement, and sticking around just to see if the second half gets better is somewhat fool-hardy.  As it happens, I read through the second half of Anouilh's Antigone, and I suspect I would have just been outraged.  Creon spends most of his time trying to convince Antigone to cover up the crime and almost begs her not to go down this path, whereas she seems determined to have herself killed when there were other options.

The Chorus made a big deal about the difference between tragedy where Fate is totally preordained and melodrama where a less tragic outcome could still occur.  So why is Anouilh writing the second half as if it was a melodrama?  It ends up seeming that a less pig-headed character than Antigone could have had a different fate.  Somehow Anouilh has (in my eyes at least) made Antigone far less noble, though I don't think that was actually what he was going for.

There is no question I think less highly of Anouilh now than I did going into the play, and I will have to think long and hard (and do some extra research) before I ever see another play by him.  So there you have it: Anouilh's Antigone -- the first play I ever walked out on.  It might be worth going just to see if your reaction is as extreme as mine, though personally I wouldn't bother.

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