ANTIGONE by Jean Anouilh, translated, adapted and directed by Sarah Phillips, with Christine Brubaker, Paul Braunstein, Liz Brown, Brett Christopher, Deborah Drakeford, Ephram Ellis, Richard Greenblatt and Michael Healey. Presented by Red Red Rose at the Great Hall (1087 Queen West). Previews Friday (June 15), opens Saturday (June 16) and runs to July 1, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinee Sunday 2:30 pm. $20, stu/srs/Equity and preview $15, Sunday pwyc. 416-463-1841. Rating: NNNNN
christine brubaker is an in-your-face kind of person. With her, that's not a bad thing.When we sit down for an interview outside the Tarragon -- where she's rehearsing the title role in Jean Anouilh's Antigone for Red Red Rose -- Brubaker settles a few inches from me, bringing her face close to mine so her blue eyes loom large. And the first thing she does is open a container of fresh baby carrots and offer them to me.
I shouldn't be surprised. That warm generosity is typical of Brubaker onstage, where a charming openness infuses roles as diverse as Joan of Arc in Mark Brownell's outlandish Monsieur d'Eon Is A Woman and the tragedy-tinged Russian émigré Sophie in Featuring Loretta, one of George Walker's Suburban Motel plays.
The first time I saw her, in a mid-90s Fringe show, she'd just graduated from the National Theatre School. I made a note to keep an eye on this young actor, a point reinforced when I saw her in the demanding title role in Oscar Wilde's Salome. The brave, clown-inspired take on the material was an earlier Red Red Rose production.
"Wilde's characters are so huge that it was easy to push the high tragedy toward comedy," recalls Brubaker. "But with Antigone we wouldn't try anything like that."
The story is about Oedipus's daughter Antigone, who defies the order of Creon, her uncle and king, and buries one of her two slain brothers although she knows the punishment is death.
The impassioned debate between ruler and subject, uncle and niece, is at the heart of the play. (Coincidentally, it also figures prominently in Athol Fugard's prison drama, The Island.)
"We looked at the Sophocles play on the same material but it didn't speak to us as powerfully as Jean Anouilh's version, written in 1940s occupied France. The argument is so fucking compelling, because both speakers are right and understandable. Audiences can relate both to Antigone's compassion and drive and to Creon's vision of making choices and compromises in order to live."
But director Sarah Phillips and Brubaker weren't happy with the British translation they read -- "too many "flibbertigibbets,' "nappies' and "Puff the dog' references," recalls Brubaker -- so Phillips wrote her own translation and made an important change. The role of the chorus now falls to Antigone herself.
"I'm not only the storyteller but also the character, narrating my own doom and instigating the tale," smiles Brubaker. "It's really different for me as an actor, playing someone who knows that the consequence of her action is not only her own death but also that of others."
Brubaker is a member of the repertory company that performs in A&E's Nero Wolf series, and she's supported other shows with her musicianship, singing or playing the accordion. But performing as a theatre artist remains central.
She's played, among other roles, Mrs. Beaver in The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe and Isabelle, the youngest daughter wound tightly into a troubled French-Canadian family, in The Orphan Muses, which won her a Dora nomination.
"I'm the youngest of six kids," she confides, crunching into a carrot, "so I have instant access to roles like Isabelle. You learn how to be creative and subversive at negotiating authority figures, working from your gut and not your intellect, like Antigone does."
selectED BIOGRAPHY CHRISTINE BRUBAKER 2001 Antigone; Seven Days in the Life of Simon Labrosse 2000 The Whirlpool 1999 Mysterium Tremendum; Monsieur d'Eon is a Woman 1998 Featuring Loretta; The Orphan Muses 1997 Salome