Don't be sad, the U of C drama department's season-opener is pretty good.

The power and glory of Greek tragedy

Drama department opens season with pair of Sophocles plays

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Every year, the University of Calgary drama department puts on productions of various plays. Sometimes the plays are good. Sometimes they are not good. In the interest in providing a fair and balanced view of this year's campus drama season, Gauntlet theatre geeks Ryan Pike and Jordyn Marcellus examine the first production of the year, Oedipus Tyrannos and Antigone.

Late Nov. at the University of Calgary generally means a few things: snowfall, exams and Greek tragedies. We have the U of C drama department to thank for that last part.

Greek tragedies are one of the most performed things in theatre. They're public domain, they've always got a few showy roles and the plays have been performed ad nauseum.

The drama department's first production of the year is a joint presentation of old Sophocles tragedies Oedipus Tyrannos and Antigone. There's nothing really major to complain about. The storytelling is straightforward, the translation is fantastic and the acting is uniformly good, with one or two exceptions.

The artistic direction of the play is an interesting turn. Instead of the typical Grecian outfits used throughout the numerous adaptations of both Oedipus and Antigone, the outfits of all the major characters are stylized after feudal Japanese garb. These outfits are richly textured and look gorgeous as the actors swirl around the stage. It's an interesting visual element and one that is unexpected in the old standby of Greek theatre. However, the Japanese influence doesn't add anything beside the neat aesthetic.

The remarkable thing about the acting is how balanced it is. The cast is effectively cut in two, with one group acting as the chorus and the other the leads for Oedipus, afterwards swapping for Antigone. The approach basically guarantees everyone gets a shot at centre stage. In Oedipus, Michael Rogers (Oedipus) and Devon Dubnyk (Kreon) inhabit the vast majority of the scenes and both are more than up to the task. Neither has a role that lends itself to scene-stealing performance, but both command attention when they're on stage. Dubnyk does double-duty, also manning the stage through a large chunk of Antigone. Along with Jessica Robertshaw (Antigone), the leads in both deliver admirably.

People tend to forget about the workhorses in these kinds of productions: the chorus. The play's most impressive moments are when they are on stage. Each interlude that features the chorus shows an amazing physicality. One of the opening scenes features them dragging their feet like ghouls, rising up and moving with their hunched-over brethren. While the lead actors deliver, the moments with the chorus are the most exhilarating parts of the production. One more shout-out belongs to Dave Broadhurst, who plays a nameless soldier in Antigone. He steals the show with his wry, British-inflected delivery and makes the audience laugh as he smiles through his one scene where squirming around the issue of telling the power-hungry Kreon his will has been disobeyed.

A quick online search of director Jeannette Lambermont-Morey shows her resume is four pages long and includes the Stratford Festival, the Citadel Theatre in Edmonton and the Julliard School. She knows her stuff. Her inclusion provides the production with an air of professionalism that previous years have lacked. Additionally, working with a professional director can only do good things for the department's fledgling actors. The consistency in acting, combined with the superb technical work, results in a very polished final product.

Seemingly every university drama program performs a Greek tragedy, almost as a rule, but the quality of the production is what's most important. The inclusion of the Japanese influence, superficial as it may be, sets this production apart from similar ones.

Calgary's theatre scene is rather crowded. In a crowd where there's swankier, better-looking shows, the drama department's productions stand out because of novelty. Located conveniently on-campus and often a great deal less expensive to attend, university productions are a good bet if the productions are any good. Considering the unique and professional approach taken this time around, Oedipus Tyrannos and Antigone are an excellent pick for anyone looking for a brief respite from the harsh grip of winter or final exams.

Oedipus Tyrannos and Antigone are being presented at the Reeve Theatre until Sat., Dec. 8. Tickets at Campus Ticket Centre. Admission is $10 for students, $15 for adults.