Blood Line: The Oedipus/Antigone Story
Chicago Tribune, March 24, 1999
Classical Stories Brought to New Life
JoAnne Akalaitis, Anne Bogart, Robert Wilson and most other postmodern cutting-edge directors in the American theatre do the bulk of their creative work with well-established institutions. They claim allegiance to the avant-garde, but the scale of their visual conceptions demands a high level of resources.
If one is young and unestablished, it is difficult to gain access to such resources and, consequently, hard to do this kind of progressive large-scale work in the theatre. Joanna Settle, the artistic director of Thirteenth Tribe, is not only youthful, but her work and her itinerant company are still largely unknown by even those Chicagoans who closely follow the local theatre scene.
After Blood Line: The Oedipus/Antigone Story, that should no longer be the case.
Whatever quibbles one may have about Settle’s avowedly singular interpretation of these two classic Sophocolean dramas should not detract from her remarkable achievement in bringing together excellent national designers, a high level of acting craft and two major new translations by Nicholas Rudall, without the support of any of our major established theatres.
Settle has raised a lot of money, talked a lot of impressive people into giving her their time and talents and generally created a massive installation-style performance piece at a new space called The Viaduct. Blood Line should be seen by anyone interested in encouraging fresh and distinctive interpretations of classical drama.
Antigone, of course, makes the best sense right after one has seen Oedipus the King, because it allows us to directly explore the source of the cursed daughter’s stubbornness and familial malaise. In typically adroit fashion, Rudall has crafted two theatrically workable new translations. Although free of anachronisms and jarring colloquialisms, they nonetheless seem fresh and alive.
Settle has filled her raw performance space with gravel and scenic towers, and the cavernous performance area allows for very complex and dimensional stage pictures and chorus movement dimensional stage pictures and chorus movement that is often thrilling in its scale and dexterity. Although James Stanley’s Oedipus and especially Anne DeAcetis’ Antigone are strong, the main reason to see this show is the ensemble-driven directorial conception rather than the individual performances.
There are moments, such as when a microphone drops from the ceiling, that the show seems a bit too much like Akalaitis redux. And Mark Ulrich’s Creon is so lacking in tragic stature that his appalling fate does not entirely sustain our interest.
But Settle apparently is not so much interested in the political, societal dimension of these plays than their psychological and personal implications. It’s a valid choice and this is an involving and exciting-work from a very talented young director.
– Chris Jones –
Amid a menacing crunch of stones underfoot, Thirteenth Tribe opens its duo of Sophocles tragedies with a striking visual pastiche of bound women giving birth to stillborn babies and the laughter of children suddenly stifled by a vast, echoing cacophony. Welcome to the world of plague-ridden Thebes, ruled and nearly damned by Oedipus the King. Beautifully adapted by Nicholas Rudall, Oedipus and its bitter sequel Antigone are the very roots of drama.
This staging sweeps one into the heart of the story’s darkness; a scene where Antigone walks to her death in a stone-throwing mob is inspired. Director Joanna Settle creates a whole that is rich, disturbing and darkly fascinating – marking Thirteenth Tribe as a new company that bears close watching.
– Catey Sullivan –
The first thing you hear upon entering the vast, garage like space where Thirteenth Tribe Theatre Company is formidably staging two classic Greek tragedies is the sound of your own feet treading on gravel. The unsettling noise serves as a subtle but ominous warning that the natural order is about to get a good shaking up.
A tightly linked double bill, Blood Line: The Oedipus/Antigone Story, has been shrewdly cast and incisively directed by Joanna Settle. It features a new translation that is at once elegant, crystal-clear, poetic and unaffectedly modern. And in the seamless blending of its architectonic design, its piercing soundscape and its immaculate staging, Blood Line manages to be both remarkably accessible and fully alive with ritualistic power.
Settle uses the Viaduct space to stunning effect, whether deploying her fine 10-person chorus (deftly choreographed by Ginger Farley) as a threatening army or a frightened citizenry, or using giant industrial doors as the gateway to the palace through which Antigone walks on her way to death. Michael E. Downs’ spare but emblematic set, with four great ramped stairways and white period chairs for the chorus, expertly defines the arena.
– Hedy Weiss –
2,500 years later, the stories of lust, devotion, incest and madness resonate with newfound dynamics in rethought adaptations by Nicholas Rudall, realized with an absorbing brilliance by director Joanna Settle in a rich and visually stunning production by Thirteenth Tribe.
Settle, working with Rudall’s bold and streamlined text and a team of visionary designers, creates a rare production that is both a technical marvel and solidly acted.
Once you enter, the imagery and power of Blood Line – if for no other reason than the sight of Antigone walking out its doors into the night amid a hailstorm of rocks – wraps itself around you like a boa constrictor and refuses to let go.
– Jeff Rosen –
Combining ambient hums, clicks, drones, and a variety of multi-layered sonic washes, Messing has scored nearly every minute of the show. Yet his work never intrudes on the action, instead suggesting subtextual contours and providing a subtle counterpoint to even straightforward moments. He keeps us on our toes even if we’ve read the play dozens of times.
The chorus, whether acting as courtiers, advisers or simple gossips, under Settle’s direction they appear to scrutinize the lofty protagonists’ every move, even breaking into applause now and again. It’s an ingenious solution to the declamatory nature of Sophoclean drama; of course the protagonists are always giving speeches, because they’re always on public display.
– Justin Hayford –
James Stanley is a young Oedipus, cocky enough to think the truth can never hurt him. It’s the right pride to deliver a fine fall. Like father, like daughter: Anne DeAcetis’ rebel self-destructs with a righteousness that impresses and intimidates.
Moving with quicksilver efficiency, the disciplined 22-member ensemble turn the theatre’s vast, pebble-strewn arena into a killing field.
– Lawrence Bommer –
Director Joanna Settle is the co-star of the evening along with Rudall. Settle has orchestrated her ensemble with a blend of naturalism and stylized body movement, never allowing the production to turn quaint or artificial. The plays may be ancient but their impact is immediate.
This is Greek drama for today, no masks and no togas. But the production’s vividly theatrical and intellectual grasp of the plays makes Sophocles truly come alive.
– Dan Zeff –