Oh, those clever ancient Greeks and their timeless wisdom...
With his profound understanding of the human condition, prescient playwright Sophocles was able to speak through the ages, "knowing" that the moral clashes between the powers of the state and the rights of the individual would still be front and center in a far-off land in the year 2017.
Directed by Jenna Soleo-Shanks, the University of Minnesota Duluth theater department's production of "Antigone," hits hard with enduring images of a lone, powerful woman standing her ground with a domineering man in a power suit towering above her.
King Creon's niece Antigone (Tolu Ekisola) begs for the right to bury the body of her traitor brother. Creon (Ryan Richardson) steadfastly refuses and sentences her to death when she defiantly takes the law into her own hands and buries her brother herself.
Ekisola elegantly portrays the nobility, integrity and determination of this iconic freedom fighter. Her passionate final confrontation with Creon before going off to her death is shattering, as she says she will die "unjustly, for upholding justice and the humanity of humankind."
Richardson is convincing as the charismatic leader who refuses to believe that his rigidity will set the world around him on such a savage path. He is most powerful in the final scene when Creon laments the deaths of those closest to him and is finally brought to his knees by the devastating impact of what his tyrannical actions have wrought.
Playing the tragic Ismene, sister of the doomed Antigone, Lauren Hugh vividly portrays the crushing effect on the innocent when events roll mercilessly over her as she watches the doomed path of her beloved sister.
The supporting cast of Chorus members is strong, with a few standout performances. Amanda Hennen, as Teiresias, the blind prophet and truth teller, commands the stage entirely as she ominously warns of the Furies to come for Creon and the country when the inevitable retribution will befall them. Her lamentation, "Are there any wise men left? Anywhere?" is one of the evening's strongest thematic moments.
As the soldier who serves as a messenger, Luke Harger provides both the brief comic relief and the crushing impact of the tragic events he reports to Creon and the senators in some of the production's strongest scenes.
Leah Benson-Devine's simple set, with two opposing platforms, stylized pillars, a single chair and a few wooden blocks, gives the actors the space to let the story swirl around the audience.
Music composed by UMD senior William Brueggemann - used during the pre-show, intermission and as underscore - enhances the dark tone of scenes in subtle but effective ways.
Dan Fitzpatrick's projected film images, using powerful war and burial scenes, and Laura Piotrowski's modern dress costumes help connect the play's timeless themes with the audience.
The play's reverberating message of the real Creons still in our midst serves as a cautionary tale from commentators who can only report and warn of the inevitable tragedies to come but are powerless to change them.
If you go
• What: "Antigone" by Sophocles, translation by Don Taylor
• Where: Dudley Experimental Theatre at the Marshall Performing Arts Center on the UMD campus
• When: Sept. 30 and Oct. 3-7 at 7:30 p.m.; 2 p.m. Oct. 1
• Tickets: (218) 726-8561 or tickets.umn.edu