Sunday, June 12, 2005

Antigone: an unforgettable production

This is about an amazing experience in the theater, one you can perhaps share yourself if you see this in time, and you're in the right area.

I'm writing about a production of Antigone, whose final performance is tonight, Sunday, June 12. In Dry Creek Valley, twenty minutes from Healdsburg.

Lindsey and I agree on this. We've seen six professional productions of plays in the last five weeks or so -- productions in Ashland, Glendale, and Hollywood; of O'Neill, Moliere, Shakespeare, Shaw. The performance we saw earlier this evening was every bit as riveting as any of them.

You will say I am distracted in this opinion by the fact that a granddaughter was in the cast, and I can have no argument against that suspicion. Emma did indeed play the role of the Sentry in Sophocles' tragedy Antigone. And she was, of course, extremely effective -- funny, dry, ironic, in the one character that Sophocles asked to mediate between the Chorus and those of us in the audience. Even so.

This production stars an 18-year-old girl, Hanna Fisher, as Antigone. The rest of the cast are two or three years younger. There is only one speaking male in the cast, as Haemon; the rest of the cast are all girls in their mid-teens. The translation is by Robert Fagles; the director is Brent Lindsay.

The performance is given at the Bella Vineyards, in Dry Creek Valley. The audience sits on chairs, one row deep, lining the three sides of a thrust stage in front of the entrance to a wine cave.

Lindsey and I sat entirely mesmerized. What we heard was Sophocles's poetic, tragic, inevitable, inescapable lines. Tears came often to my eyes. The play is about the what happens when a tyrant, driven really only by his own self-importance, interferes with the right and proper way humans conduct themselves in the face of death and mourning. These adolescent girls spoke lines whose depth and universality express emotions, facts, and imperatives clearly far beyond any personal experience they could have formed themselves. The words, and the emotions and facts those words convey, are clearly true and universal: if adolescent girls can rise to such dramatic heights in speaking them, they can only be oracular.

Of course Sophocles's play, like so many we've seen in the last few seasons by Shakespeare, is particularly relevant in the present moment. One hesitates to grant Mr. Bush an adjective like "Shakespearian," but there it is: his ambition, his error, and his arrogance reach well beyond his ability.

But that's a digression. Even if we lived in a moment of peace and enlightenment, I would recommend this production of Antigone unreservedly. If it were given in a technological marvel of a theater, by a first-class professional theater, it would be no more compelling, no more exciting. If my granddaughter Emma were not in the cast, it would matter not the least for the purpose of this advertisement.

This was a memorable theatrical evening. I am intensely grateful for it, and I recommend it to any of you who can possibly attend.

It costs ten dollars. It is at Bella Vineyards, 9711 West Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg (tel.: 707.473.9171). The final performance is Sunday, June 12, 2005, at 7 pm. It plays outside, and you will want warm clothes.

A final note: in a couple of days Lindsey and I take another trip, only a week this time, to Chicago and Milwaukee. For the occasion I'm trying out a new method of sending Dispatches describing hotels, restaurants, and (this time) baseball games. You can read about them at

a new blog I've just begun.

Do try to see this show -- you won't be sorry you did. And if for some reason you can't see it, re-read Antigone. It's amazing how relevant these ancient things still are.

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