Law & Order: Greek Tragedy Unit

From the moment he commands our attention, Luverne Seifert makes it clear that his king Creon is not fit to wear the purple. He swills a beer--never a statesmanlike pose--and walks with a truculence that suggests he'd just as happily smash you over the head with the bottle as take another swig. Halfway through this jet-paced production, done in partnership with Intermedia Arts as the first of the Children's Theatre Company's CTC for Teens program, Seifert's long hair is dripping with sweat and his running clown makeup looks like it was applied while riding shotgun in a dune buggy. He's a monster.

To be honest, his monstrosity toward his pious niece Antigone (Sonya Parks), daughter of Oedipus, does as much violence to the subtlety of Sophocles' non-dualistic tragedy as his fearsome grip does to Antigone's neck in one brutal scene. They're grappling over the interment of Antigone's traitorous brother Polynices, whose body she properly buries despite Creon's strict (but not unprecedented) orders not to. When Creon is ruined at the play's end, it's a villain's comeuppance rather than a misguided hero's fall, and a key component of the tragedy is lost.

Ah, but what the hell. Make Creon's troubled-times law-and-order bullshit too understandable, and you'll only please Spiro Agnew fans. Besides, this may not be great tragedy, but it's great theater: electric, immediate, and intoxicating.

British director Greg Banks, who wrote the production's admirably limpid translation, presents the play in the promenade style. The players perform throughout the theater, while the standing audience moves around to follow the action. In this case, it's a literally touching technique: Actors frequently graze or bump you as they whir or squeeze by. The closeness to the performers also allows for a close inspection of Mary Anne Culligan's costumes. Tattered and vampiric, the clothes have the ominous sootiness of a Brecht production or a Nine Inch Nails video.

And did I mention how loud this show is? The guts of a piano and scattered oil drums are banged, whacked, and hurled to great effect. The shouting matches between vehement lone wolf Antigone and feral Creon are nearly as deafening, less arresting emotionally than physically. One leaves the theater with a pleasant tinnitus and the sense that CTC has manufactured a rare hybrid: the feel-good tragedy.

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