Play Review: ‘Antigone’ Wraps Up YSU Theater Season


As the lights went down at Youngstown State University’s Ford Theater in Bliss Hall Friday night, three ghost-like figures entered, carrying large stick puppets in the style of ancient Greek Theater. Attired in white and wearing half-masks, they launch into “Antigone” by Jean Anouilh and adapted by Lewis Galantiere. 

This Greek chorus sets up the situation of the play and details the plot that the audience is about to experience.

Gathered around the stage are the characters that are introduced one by one, along with some background of each. Cherish Michele, Olivia Vargas and Aidan Holderfield are very effective in their roles as the Greek Chorus. Their dialogue unfolds quickly and sharply, and they pick up cues right on the beat. They are instrumental in moving the plot along as well as serving as the conscience of Creon, ruler of Thebes – their entrances and exits being marked by claps of thunder.

Meganne Evans offers a strong portrayal of the title character, Antigone. With both of her brothers, Polynices and Eteocles, killing each other during the battle of Thebes, according to the curse of their father, Oedipus, Antigone lives a tortured life. Creon has ruled that Eteocles be buried with honors while Polynices is to be left to rot unburied. Antigone’s mission is to bury Polynices at all costs.

Evans has an inner strength in her portrayal of Antigone that shows through from the very beginning. With all characters wearing half-masks, it precludes any use of facial expression, a basic element to acting. The mask does not hinder Evans one bit. Her body language tells all, and her quick and strong line delivery leaves no doubt about her intentions and commitment to Polynices.

Combating those intentions is Creon, played by Gunnar Carwile. Creon is Antigone’s uncle, but family means no allegiance when it comes to defying a Creon decree. Creon is adamant that Antigone must pay with her life for her disobedience to him. Carwile, although offering an interesting characterization of Creon, was a little tough to buy in the role early on. It wasn’t until his big scene with Antigone where they spar back and forth about the legitimacy of his order that Carwile takes full hold of the character.

Interestingly, something similar happens with Antigone’s Nurse, played by Madelyn Welsh. In her first appearance, the character seems somewhat overdone, nearly giving her little room in which to grow. But as the scene develops, the character sort of grows into Welsh’s comedic portrayal. She makes the character a highlight of the show by the end of the scene, leaving the audience with the hope that she will return later.

Nicholas Figiel provides Antigone’s love interest as Haeman. Haeman is Creon’s son. One can guess the complications there. I had a hard time buying the relationship with Antigone and Haeman in their scene together. They just didn’t seem to fit as a couple. That is no reflection on the acting of either actor; they just didn’t seem to mesh during the scene. Figiel, however, does have his time in the limelight later in the show in a confrontational scene with Creon in which both actors do some fine acting.

Ismene, Antigone’s submissive sister, is played well by Samantha Gurd, who has always been a sure bet in past YSU productions, and she doesn’t disappoint here. Although not on stage much, she leaves a memorable impression.

Creon’s three guards are played to perfection by Tamara Most, K.J. Hudson and Ryan Bedi. With Greek tragedy being fraught with death and darkness, comedy is a welcome respite from the proceedings. This bumbling group of scatterbrained rejects make the most of each appearance they have. Their timing and cohesiveness make them a joy to watch and gives the audience a chance to relax until the next dark cloud appears.

Rounding out the impressive cast are Amberlynn Zuccarell as the Messenger, Hunter Lombard as a Page and Belle Elliott as Eurydice.

Greek tragedy is not seen much around this area, but YSU should be commended for mounting this production. Director Todd Dicken has done a masterful job in guiding his actors through the intricacies of this type of theater.

Kudos to the entire technical staff for work well done. Dicken’s set design is simple but very effective – two platforms with access steps stage left and a long ramp from stage right, topped off with seven imposing square columns upstage. It is very functional but also does not get in the way.

Katherine Garlick, as always, does top-notch work with costume design. With this production being interpreted to a contemporary time period, costuming went from the Greek style (chorus) to Corsican/Ukrainian. Although not credited, I assume the half-masks were also handled by Garlick. They were truly effective and were instrumental in conveying the ancient Greek style.

The stick puppets accompanying the Greek Chorus were well done by Mallory Ehrhart. Nathaniel Chapline did well with lighting design.

I remember well reading “Antigone” in high school so many years ago. Seeing this production brought that memory back and gave me a whole different perspective. This production is something different and something very enjoyable. Catch it if you can.

“Antigone” will continue Saturday and April 8 at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m.

Pictured at top: Nicholas Figiel, who plays Haemon, and Meganne Evans as Antigone rehearse a scene from University Theatre’s “Antigone.”

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.