Salvage Vanguard Theater’s Antigonick

This production gives an ancient tale a fresh look and feel while retaining its tragic power

Photo by Usama Malik

You can tell by the way he sits in it – ramrod straight spine, limbs at right angles – that this man loves his throne. So what if it's just clear plastic? This is his seat of power. From it, Kreon is able to rule over Thebes, to decide the fate of all who come before him, to be The Law.

So when Antigone is hauled in for the crime of burying her brother – a traitor whose corpse Kreon decreed must be left in the open to be picked apart by birds, even though he was Kreon's nephew – her talk of justice and obeying the will of the gods doesn't cow Kreon. His power trumps all. So despite her being his niece – his niece(!) and his son's fiancée – he has no problem condemning her to be buried alive. Of course, anyone who trusts in the dictum that "Authority is authority," as Kreon does, is ultimately going down, and much of what drives Salvage Vanguard Theater's staging of Antigonick is our knowledge that Kreon eventually will be pulled from his beloved throne.

That isn't to say Antigone is any less central to this version of the tragedy bearing her name. Indeed, she's the riddle that poet Anne Carson seeks to solve in this translation/adaptation. In a prologue addressed to Antigone herself, Carson sifts through ideas about the heroine posited by others – George Eliot, Judith Butler, Hegel, Bertolt Brecht – like a tongue probing for a missing tooth. But the Antigone she offers, while fierce – and Megan Tabaque brings all the defiance here, her Antigone giving as good as she gets from her uncle, the dark rouge coloring her cheeks suggesting flames that fuel her fiery retorts – knows where this confrontation is headed, and she's accepted her fate. "Of course I will die/ Kreon or no Kreon/ and death is fine/ this has no pain," she tells her uncle. "To leave my mother's son lying out there unburied/ that would be pain."

Antigone's death is tragic, but it's Kreon who's set himself on high above Olympus' summit, so he has farther to fall – a feeling accentuated by Jay Byrd's tall figure, towering redwoodlike over Tabaque's Antigone and the rest of the cast, hubris hanging off him like leaves. His impending tragedy looms larger.

When that tree topples, though, you may not expect to feel much of an impact given the irreverence of the script: Antigone and Ismene quarrel over whether a line is quoting Hegel or Beckett; the Chorus responds to the news that Teiresias' prophecy of Haimon's death has come to pass by saying, "Okay Teiresias, point match game." And Carson repeatedly reminds us that this is a play – and one with a lengthy history. At one point, the Chorus remarks, "Remember how Brecht had you do the whole play with a door strapped to your back?" On making her lone entrance late in the play, Kreon's wife Eurydike announces, "This is Eurydike's monologue/ it's her only speech in the play/ you may not know who she is/ that's okay." SVT co-producing Artistic Director Diana Lynn Small has infused this staging with a kindred trickster spirit that provides delightful surprises throughout – characters brandishing handheld mics and blowing bubbles and tossing confetti (which is then dutifully swept up by an ensemble member); a game of "Tele­phone" with lines of text passed through the audience, whispered ear to ear. And suspended above the runway on which the action occurs is a "chandelier" that designer Lisa Laratta has made from scores of plastic bottles, the soft noise of their bumping against one another like the muttering of another Theban chorus unhappy with the direction of this tale.

These elements and the fine ensemble's full embrace of them refresh this ancient tale, giving every move forward, however familiar, some unexpected turn, something new to see and delight in. And yet, both Carson and SVT never lose sight of the endgame here: the tragedy. The deaths and departures are treated with the gravity of the original, and they land with us. When Kreon finally falls, Byrd's cry that he is "Late to learn O yes I am/ late too late," it is a true howl of pain, the howl of one whose pride and arrogance have been seared from his flesh. No son. No wife. No throne. No Law. Only a man, full of loss and lost. And so, as a production rich in imagination and wit draws to a close, the earth shakes a little.


Dougherty Arts Center, 1110 Barton Springs Rd.
Through April 6
Running time: 1 hr., 10 min.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Salvage Vanguard Theater
New Solo Performance Shows How Black Mothers Are Left Doubly Unprotected by the Constitution
New Solo Performance Shows How Black Mothers Are Left Doubly Unprotected by the Constitution
Taji Senior's amendment puts the country’s foundational document on trial

Robert Faires, Aug. 21, 2020

Seen / Soon: April 6
Seen / Soon: April 6
On the bus in the City of Angels with Salvage Vanguard's staging of con flama and in Mexico with John Gibley, author of I Couldn't Even Imagine That They Would Kill Us

April 6, 2018

More Arts Reviews
Review: Deaf Austin Theatre’s <i>Tiny Beautiful Things</i>
Review: Deaf Austin Theatre’s Tiny Beautiful Things
Fostering connection through Cheryl Strayed’s advice columns

Cat McCarrey, May 24, 2024

Theatre Review: Bottle Alley Theatre Company’s <i>Aurora</i>
Theatre Review: Bottle Alley Theatre Company’s Aurora
This alien exploration works as a play and an encapsulation of what makes Austin special

Cat McCarrey, May 17, 2024

More by Robert Faires
Last Bow of an Accidental Critic
Last Bow of an Accidental Critic
Lessons and surprises from a career that shouldn’t have been

Sept. 24, 2021

"Daniel Johnston: I Live My Broken Dreams" Tells the Story of an Artist
The first-ever museum exhibition of Daniel Johnston's work digs deep into the man, the myths

Sept. 17, 2021


Salvage Vanguard Theater, Diana Lynn Small, Megan Tabaque, Jay Byrd, Lisa Laratta, Anne Carson, Antigone

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle