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The Burial at Thebes

  • Theater, Drama
  • 3 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

The Burial at Thebes: Theater review by Helen Shaw

In this town, you're never short of opportunities to see a production of Sophocles' Antigone, but for theater aficionados, it's hard to see it too often. Consider too that the Irish Repertory Theatre is doing Seamus Heaney's adaptation-translation The Burial at Thebes—a fierce bit of bravura language—and those who love the classics should be in clover.

Heaney hews close to Sophocles' action: titular girl buries brother against uncle-king's wishes; everything goes rapidly to hell. Where Heaney embroiders, though, he stitches deep. Once you've heard his Thebes, it's hard to forget how he turns the sweet, baffled guard (here the always welcome Colin Lane) into a small comic masterpiece, nor how he occasionally turns the full force of his lyric into something physically terrifying. Still, there's bad news. The characters seem either ill-assured (Winsome Brown's Eurydice, Paul O'Brien's Creon) or locked into generic choices (Rebekah Brockman's Antigone); Tony Walton's set design is the wrong size (actors have to scooch around the cyclorama just to get off stage); and stage pictures too often involve a group standing in a half circle while someone else declaims. The Irish Rep's temporary relocation to the postage stamp–sized DR2 may explain some of the production's awkwardness: perhaps the microscopic venue has destabilized director Charlotte Moore's staging sense.

Twice, though, the show grabs Heaney's text by the throat. The first moment of real threat comes when Haemon (Ciarán Bowling) argues with his father, Creon. The London-born actor has a confused Cupid's face and floppy ’90s bangs, so he should look entirely ridiculous in his pseudoclassical tunic —but Bowling acts right past the problem. His thrilling intensity also reorients O'Brien's Creon, turning the bluffness that has dimmed Creon's other moments in the play into a striking, even painful choice. The show also takes fire near the end, when prophet Tiresias (the reliable Robert Langdon Lloyd) howls down the theater. Tiresias's sacrifices have turned to slime; his birds are vomiting up the filth of Greece's dead. All through the play (and the program note), Heaney and Moore have drawn attention to modern resonances between Washington and Thebes. Here, though, the language forces us to share Tiresias's disgust, and all that horror finally strikes home.—Helen Shaw

DR2 Theatre (Off Broadway). Adapted by Seamus Heaney from a play by Sophocles. Directed by Charlotte Moore. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 15mins. No intermission.

Written by
Helen Shaw


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