Sophocles knew a thing or two about human nature. “Stubbornness and stupidity are twins,” he wrote in his great play “Antigone” around 440 B.C., and a day hasn't gone by since without some foolish mortal demonstrating his point.
In “Antigone,” the person who could most use a wisdom transfusion is the Theban ruler Creon. Blinded by convention and closed to compromise, he brings about the deaths of those closest to him. How he gets to that point is the stuff of first-rate tragedy.
Works by Sophocles aren't staged around here every day, so Glass Mind Theatre's new production provides a welcome opportunity to get reconnected to that fascinating world. I just wish the results were more polished.
Stage director Lynn Morton's adaptation whittles the play down to 90 minutes, partly by eliminating a fundamental element of Greek theater: the chorus. Purists would consider that a radical act, rather like removing Flo and Mary from the Supremes, but the main points of “Antigone” can be made without commentary from the sidelines.
Morton hasn't just taken something out. She has put something in -- material from Sophocles' “Oedipus the King” and “Oedipus at Colonus.” This helps fill in some parts of the backstory to “Antigone,” though the insertions can be a bit confusing and slow down the flow of the main drama.
That drama swirls around Antigone, one of four children who share the complex Oedipus as father. Her brothers, Polynices and Eteocles, were supposed to alternate ruling Thebes, but fought each other instead and died in battle.
Creon, thrust onto the Theban throne, decides that Eteocles was the good guy in the fight and decrees an honorable burial for him. The body of Polynices is to be exposed to the elements; no one is to perform even the slightest religious ritual over it.
Antigone decides to disobey what she believes to be an unjust law. Family and faith must take precedence, she reasons. Antigone's sister, Ismene, is more like the civilians counted on by autocrats in every era and place (see Russia and Egypt for current examples). “I am not free,” Ismene says. “I'll obey whoever is in charge.”
Sophocles adds fuel to the issues of honor and duty by having Antigone engaged to Creon's son, Haimon, who must face a double loyalty test.
At its best, the minimally staged and costumed Glass Mind production effectively captures the emotional struggles among the characters and the sense of an eddy scooping up all of them. But the language of the translation used here rarely soars, and much of the acting is stiff and self-conscious.
That's especially so with Hannah Fogler as Creon, though she summons enough pathos for the final scene, when the king starts to grasp his folly. (Has a trend of gender-neutral casting started in Baltimore? The Annex Theater recently offered “Macbeth” with a woman in the title role.)
Spencer Nelson is an understated, almost matter-of-fact Antigone; more depth of expression would help. Rachel Nutter makes the conflicted Ismene a vivid presence and effectively takes on a couple other roles as well.
Matthew Casella portrays Oedipus and, more persuasively, the messenger who dares to bring the king the bad news that sets this tragedy in motion. Vince Constantino gives the production a boost, bringing considerable intensity to multiple assignments. He does particularly stirring, nuanced work as the seer Teiresias, who forces Creon to recognize the folly in his obstinacy.
"Antigone" continues through Sunday at the EMP Collective.