Sophocles gets uneven update in Cutting Ball’s ‘Antigone’

“Remember, we’re women,” Ismene tells her sister, Antigone.

Her warning, coming minutes into the new Cutting Ball Theater production of “Antigone,” reminds the title character – and the audience – who holds the power in postwar Thebes.

As the second offering in its season-long exploration of injustice, the company’s take on Sophocles’ tragedy is a stark portrayal of a woman against the system – although its impact is often blunted by uneven directorial choices.

This “Antigone,” which unfolds in a brisk 90 minutes, has a lot going for it. Mounted following the company’s two-week residency at Poland’s Grotowski Institute, it boasts a new translation by Daniel Sullivan and an often fluid staging directed by Paige Rogers.

Rogers employs a mix of dance, chant and ritualized movement to outline the play’s central dilemma: when Antigone vows to give her brother, Polyneices, a proper burial, she risks everything. King Kreon, having announced that Polyneices died a traitor, has decreed that anyone who buries him will be put to death.

The production keeps the eight-member cast, draped in dark colors, in constant motion on Michael Locher’s spare set, with Heather Basarab’s lighting drawing the eye toward the action of the moment.

The use of movement is effective in some scenes, distracting in others. The cast vocalizes well, although the chorus effect – lines delivered by the ensemble in unison – grows wearying. The singing, in folk songs and lullabies, enhances the drama, but an interlude inexplicably set to “How Are Things in Glocca Morra?” simply halts the dramatic flow.

Sullivan’s translation re-casts Sophocles’ text for 21st century theatergoers. That’s both its novelty (at one point, Antigone taunts Kreon by calling him a “bean counter”) and its principal challenge. The script’s lofty language and contemporary idioms don’t always cohere.

Performances are similarly uneven. The finest moments belong to Elissa Beth Stebbins’ indelible Chorus Lead, Hannah Donovan’s tender Ismene, and Paul Loper’s articulate Tiresias. Emma Crane Jaster makes the most of her comic scene as a Sentry.

In the title role, Madeline H.D. Brown summons Antigone’s strength, but not quite enough of her character’s grief. Jason W. Wong’s one-note Kreon misses the king’s ruthlessness, and Wiley Naman Strasser lacks definition as Haemon. Tim Green is a stolid Sentry.

By the end, the implications of Ismene’s warning are hauntingly clear. But the production simmers where it should burn. Despite flashes of intensity, this “Antigone” never quite achieves tragic grandeur.



Presented by Cutting Ball Theater

Where: Exit on Taylor, 277 Taylor St., S.F.

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays; closes March 29

Tickets: $10 to $50

Contact: (415) 525-1205,

AntigoneartsCutting Ball TheaterDaniel Sullivan

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at

Just Posted

Nicole Canedo looks at her City-issued Medical Reimbursement Account page on her computer outside her Berkeley apartment on Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020. Canedo has worked numerous retail jobs in The City and the MRA has helped her with health costs. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Millions left sitting in medical reimbursement accounts by city workers

Health officials looking at how to improve access, outreach as untapped funds reach $409M

49ers receiver Deebo Samuel picks up yards in front of the Rams defense after a reception in the 4th quarter at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood Sunday. (Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)
Rams can’t stop 49ers’ Deebo Samuel from catching defense off guard

Emmanuel Morgan Los Angeles Times Perhaps the Rams didn’t watch enough film.… Continue reading

Dr. Grant Colfax, director of the San Francisco Department of Public Health. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
SF moves into purple tier, triggering curfew and business shutdowns

San Francisco moved into the state’s purple COVID-19 tier Saturday, requiring The… Continue reading

Indecline, an art activist collective in San Francisco, transformed a billboard into an editorial with a message blasting immigration policies of Donald Trump’s administration. (Screenshot, Indecline website)
Has immigration fallen off the administration’s radar? Not a chance

Enforced as executive orders, Trump’s hardline policies are proceeding, against will of the people

University of San Francisco head coach Todd Golden coaches his team on defense during a 2019 gameat War Memorial Gymnasium on the campus of the University of San Francisco. (Ryan Gorcey / S.F. Examiner)
Stunner in Bubbleville: USF upsets fourth-ranked Virginia

Less than 48 hours removed from a loss to a feeble UMass… Continue reading

Most Read