Raleigh Little Theatre is using the intimacy of the Gaddy-Goodwin Theatre to bring us a deceptively simple staging of Antigone, the final installment of Sophocles’ Oedipus Trilogy, a series of three classic Greek dramas that also includes Oedipus Rex and Oedipus in Colonus. In this interpretation of Anitgone by Don Taylor, Oedipus has died in Colonus, and his brother, Creon, has declared himself king of Thebes. These two developments close Oedipus in Colonus, and Creon’s claim to the throne also takes place in the beginning of Antigone as the story sets up to bring this trilogy to its conclusion.

The Oedipus Trilogytakes its story from Homer; most of the plays of the famed Greek playwrights dealt with and reflected the Greek myths already extant in the fifth century BC. In Antigone, two things have happened since Oedipus died: First, Oedipus’ son, Polynices, laid siege to Thebes in an attempt to wrest control. He was countered by his brother Eteocles, who defended Thebes, and the two slew each other in battle, as laid down in a prophecy/curse Oedipus spoke before he died. Second, after Creon claimed the throne (since no one is left to ascend the throne now that Oedipus’ sons are both dead), he also declared that Eteocles, who defended Thebes, should be buried with all honor and rites. He further decreed that the body of Polynices, enemy of Thebes, should rot above ground and receive no burial at all. This is an attempt at ruining Polynices’ eternity in the land of the dead.

Antigone opens as the remaining children of Oedipus, Antigone (Valerie Pesot) and Ismene (Brynna Rosengberg), meet outside the city’s walls to discuss the fate of their brothers and what Creon (David Snee) has decreed. Antigone is having none of what Creon desires and wants to bury Polynices herself, and she seeks aid from Ismene. Ismene is adamant in trying to dissuade Antigone, but Antigone reminds her sister that the gods will not accept that Polynices did not receive a proper burial, and that she intends to follow the rule of the gods rather than the rule of man, even if the man is her uncle. Seeing Ismene would do the converse, she upbraids her sister as being weak, scorns her, and leaves to bury Polynices herself.

Creon, meanwhile, addresses the Council of Thebes, a ten-member panel of men that serve as the Greek chorus, witnesses to the action of the play. Whether it is laid out in the translation or it is the decision of the director, the members of the chorus in this production each spoke their lines singly, to each other, rather than chanting them to the audience, as would have been done in Athens during Sophocles’ time. After Creon finishes his address, a soldier (Jessica Soffian) comes to the council and tells Creon that someone unknown has removed Polynices’ body from where it lay and neither it, nor those responsible, can be found. This infuriates Creon, and he tells the soldier that, if the body and those responsible for its removal cannot be found, the soldier himself will die in their place. He then rails some more to the Council before storming out.

Antigone, during this time, is found to be committing purification rites over Polynices’ body, and she is brought by the soldier before the council. Creon appears, and in anger at Antigone’s defiance, sentences both Antigone and her sister – who is blameless – to death. Antigone stands her ground and tells Creon that his actions defy the gods, but Creon is too proud and stubborn to listen to his niece – despite the fact that she is the one who is correct. Creon sends both sisters off to their doom before again storming angrily out of the Council chamber.

We next meet Haemon (Sean Moss), Creon’s only son, who before the war was engaged to Antigone. He comes to Creon to tell him that the will of the people is against him and with Antigone; he feels her take on the will of the gods is accurate, and he beseeches his father to stay her execution to save his own reign. Creon, who is still angry at the defiance he seems to find everywhere, berates Haemon as soft, and giving in to the whims of a woman. Angered by his father’s rebuke, Haemon declares Creon will never see him again, and leaves Thebes.

Director Meredyth Pederson Cooper has staged the production on a single set, much as Sophocles would have done, adding only a few set pieces to vary the action. The Council’s seat is raised, with an area in front of it for further action. The costuming is modern; Creon wears a suit rather than royal robes, and the Council is dressed in army fatigues. Antigone wears pants and boots at the beginning, but wears a burial gown before she is taken to her tomb. Ismene wears a flowing red outfit that harkens back to the robes she would have worn originally. We also see a cameo appearance by Eurydice, Creon’s wife and Haemon’s mother (Caroline Farmer), who briefly overhears the council discussing what they have learned, then stoically leaves to ponder the information.

What Eurydice has heard is that, though Ismene was pardoned, both Antigone and Haemon are dead. Antigone has hung herself in the living tomb into which she was sealed; Haemon, who broke into the tomb, found Antigone hanging there only moments before a contrite Creon had come to free her. Haemon, in a botched attempt to slay his father, turned his sword on himself. Troubled by the exit Eurydice made from the Council, one member goes to see if she is all right. During the absence, Creon returns with a stretcher on which he bears his son home. He then learns of the suicide of his wife, who condemned him before she died as the slayer of her son. Creon, completely broken, wanders into the night, begging forgiveness for his pride.

This translation of Antigone retains all the flavor of a Greek tragedy while being updated to appeal more to the modern audiences. All the violence takes place offstage and is described to us by the players. The chorus, as councilmen, discuss the action and its possible meaning as the play proceeds. While of course we expect the women of the play to be played by women, this was never the case in Sophocles’ time; in the fifth century BC, all actors were male. Interestingly, Antigone, in her meeting with Ismene, rails against having to always deal with “men and their laws.” But the crux of the play, that mankind will never succeed in trying to defy the gods, remains intact. It is the underlying theme of the whole trilogy, and it is ably delivered here by this cast. With fine portrayals by both Pesot as Antigone and Snee as Creon, and a ten-member chorus that has mastered an entire play’s worth of choreography as well as their individual lines, this play remains explosive. In an interesting aside, it is worth noting that the blind seer, Tiresias (who made his first appearance in Oedipus Rex), is represented as a trio of voices portrayed by chorus members, rather than as a single individual.

Cooper has given us a play that combines the aspects of Greek tragedy with several more modern aspects of theatre into an individual and interesting composite that works on stage. We receive all the flavor of the original while watching a modernized presentation that makes the play more accessible. Using fifteen cast members and a static set, RLT has brought us a satisfying interpretation of Sophocles that retains all the aspects of its Greek origins.

Antigone continues in the Gaddy-Goodwin Theatre at Raleigh Little Theatre this weekend and through Sunday, July 28. For more information on this production, please view the sidebar.