Review: Court Theatre’s Antigone Asks the Old Questions for New Times

Every time an old play is revived, it inhabits two dimensions—the time of its writing and the time of its revival. You can't exactly call a restaging of a 2,400+ year old Greek tragedy a revival, but it's not "New Faces of 2024" either.

And that brings us to the Court Theatre's ingenious staging of Sophocles' tragedy Antigone. The final installment in Court's presentation of the Oedipus cycle that began back in 2019 with Oedipus Rex and continued in last year's thrilling The Gospel at Colonus. This production has big shoes to fill, and unsurprisingly, that's a challenge it handily meets.

Like all classic tragedies, Antigone is surprisingly malleable. Sophocles' thoughts, once directed to an outdoor audience of Athenians celebrating the local grape harvest, has made many stops along the way to us, maybe most notably in Jean Anouilh's 1944 production in Nazi-occupied Paris, where the age-old question of obedience to civil authorities vs. faithfulness to a higher law held particularly intense repercussions.

Aeriel Williams as Antigone. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Court's current staging, adroitly directed by artistic director Gabrielle Randell-Bent using a translation by Court's founding director (and University of Chicago professor of classics) Nicholas Rudall, brings perhaps an equally weighty resonance by framing the production squarely in the experience of Black Americans. So, when the lights dim, the first thing we hear is a recording of Black women (members of Randell-Bent's family) discussing the back-of-the-bus reality of the early Civil Rights era. And, when the classic Greek chorus arrives on stage, they (Cage Sebastian Pierre and Danielle Davis) are wearing the regal gowns of a Gospel choir.

And then the old story unfolds: battling brothers, now both dead—one a hero and the other a traitor. One celebrated by the king and city, the other's body consigned as carion for the birds and the dogs to eat. And one sister, prepared to defy the authorities—and face the consequences—to do what she sees as right.

Julian Parker as Watchman and Timothy Edward Kane as Creon. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

The cast is uniformly excellent and play their roles with sensitive skill. But let me single out one for special praise. This may seem odd thing to say for a tragedy and for what, in other, less capable hands may be a throw-away role—but Julian Parker as the anonymously named "Watchman" is hilarious. The words are still Sophocles' (by way of Rudall), but the laughs he earns are Parker's alone. I can't wait to see him in a comedy.

The excellent production has been extended through March 2 at the Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis Ave. The runtime of the show is two hours with no intermission. Tickets for performances Wednesday-Sunday are available for $40-$70 at www.CourtTheatre.org.

For more information on this and other plays, see theatreinchicago.com.

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Doug Mose

Doug Mose grew up on a farm in western Illinois, and moved to the big city to go to grad school. He lives with his husband Jim in Printers Row. When he’s not writing for Third Coast Review, Doug works as a business writer.