East meets West in Japanese director Satoshi Miyagi’s reinterpretation of Sophocles’ classic tragedy “Antigone,” which splashed into Off Broadway’s Park Avenue Armory for a limited run.
Miyagi’s production, first mounted at the Shizuoka Performing Arts Center in a small city in the shadow of Mount Fuji, is a visually stunning spectacle that combines elements of Noh theater and Japanese shadow plays that make the most of the Armory’s cavernous space.
The stage itself is a giant wading pool filled with water, dotted with rocks and boulders, where the 29-member ensemble walks, dances and splashes during the course of the evening. (Junpei Kinz is credited with the striking space design.)
And the major characters — from Theban king Creon to his rebellious niece Antigone and her more timid sister Ismene — all have dual performers: one kneels in the water, speaking the Japanese dialogue (with supertitle projections in English) while the other provides stylized movement, often amplified with giant shadows across the back wall of the Armory.
Kayo Takahashi’s costumes have a similar duality: flowy, gauzy robes worn over carapace-like body armor, suggesting a society that is both martial and philosophical in its approach to life. Even the female characters wear this armor, which is notable since Shigetake Yaginuma’s translation makes much of Creon’s sexist desire to put women in their place in any discussion about the conflict between loyalty to the state and to the higher laws of the gods.
The effect of all this can be both absorbing and off-putting, especially across an overly broad performance area where you do not always know where to look. But the approach also works for this material, with a relatively simple easy-to-follow story that might otherwise seem too slight for the one hour, 45-minute running time.
Hiroko Tanakawa’s percussion-heavy score adds an almost visceral element to the story-telling and reinforces the effectiveness of this staging. It’s an ancient story but seen fresh through new eyes.