Emphasizing the importance of silencing phones, assistant stage manager Meesh Morris stood in the center of the SpringHouse Ministry Center on Monday night and pointed out, "This is a very live space." She wasn't kidding: Her voice reverberated off the sanctuary walls, which would soon be reflecting screams and songs as the cast of Theatre Coup d'Etat's Antigone went about their bloody business.
The show is collaboratively created under the direction of "principal playwright" Meagan Kedrowski. It's a highly physical production, and in the close quarters of the SpringHouse sanctuary there's no mistaking the intensity this predominantly young cast brings to the tragic tale.
A down-to-Earth Lauren Diesch stars as the title character, who defies the order of her uncle, King Creon (Brian Joyce), to leave the remains of her rebellious brother Polyneices (Michael Johnson) unburied. It's a family drama, and Kedrowski intersperses flashbacks to happier days, when Antigone and her siblings could play innocently together, unaware of the cloud gathering over their kingdom.
As ancient Greek dramas go, Antigone has been a hot property in recent years. Seamus Heaney's searing Sophocles adaptation The Burial at Thebes received a strong staging at the Guthrie in 2011, and Antigone's feminist themes have made it ripe for reappraisal. The Coup d'Etat production is an intimate take, emphasizing the fact that these legendary characters are not gods but humans, trying to divine exactly what the gods would have them do in a time of turmoil.
The approach finds its strongest footing in close conversations among Antigone, her betrothed Haemon (Jeff Groff), and her cautious sister Ismene (Jayme Godding). Kedrowski and her collaborators ground these scenes in a lucid context of family history and clashing personalities. While her family members feel their hands are tied by the law, Antigone argues that the law must be applied with wisdom and empathy.
The show's special effects come courtesy of some intense choreography and a lot of loud anguish: If it's been awhile since someone stood two feet away from you and shouted at the top of his lungs, brace yourself. The company sends warriors flying in deadly battles and brings fate creeping in a gothic fantasy, all precisely choreographed and staged with complete ownership of the space.
Four guards (Kelly Nelson, Antonia Perez, Franklin Wagner, and Patrick Webster) double as messengers of fate, signaling with sighing breaths when the story flashes in and out of time. We get more of the guards' bumbling dialogue than we really need in a show that can push patience (it runs 100 minutes with no intermission) but the four performers help set the show's foreboding tone.
"If you are going to re-tell a story," writes Kedrowski in a program note, "it is always important to examine why, and breathe new life into the text." She and her collaborators have succeeded, creating a production that brings audiences up close and personal with one of history's great unhappy families.