by Lynn on May 5, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Young People’s Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Jeff Ho

Directed by Stephen Colella and Karen Gilodo

Set and costumes by Christine Urquhart

Lighting by Rebecca Picherack

Sound by David Mesiha

Cast: Christopher Allen

Aldrin Bundoc

Jasmine Chen

Simon Gagnon

Soo Garay

Rachel Mutombo

John Ng

Jeff Yung

An evocative play and an exquisite production of it. Jeff Ho takes the Greek story of Antigone and applies it to his Chinese background by referencing the 1989 protest in Tiananmen Square and the student umbrella protest in Hong Kong in 2014. The result is moving, perceptive, and bracing.

The Story. NOTE on Background: In the Greek play by Sophocles, Antigone goes against her uncle’s wishes (King Creon) and wants to bury her brother, who died in battle fighting his own brother.  Antigone’s uncle thought one brother was a hero and deserved full burial honours and the other didn’t and wanted him to rot unburied. Antigone wants to bury her brother. It’s against her uncle’s wishes. There is trouble.

In playwright Jeff Ho’s version of Antigone we are in China. It’s the time of re-education. If anyone defies the wishes of the supreme leader, they are taken away, jailed and ‘re-educated’. Two brothers, Neikes and Teo, are on opposite sides of blind devotion, especially to their father Kreon. He’s a soldier who does the bidding of the supreme leader. Kreon has gone so far as put his wife in prison for re-education.

Neikes wants to take back Tiananmen Square for the people. His brother Teo is on the other side of the issue. They fight and both die. Kreon gives Teo full burial rights and nothing to Neikes. Antigone defies him and attempts to bury her brother.

 The Production. The audience sits around the raised square playing area—symbolic of Tiananmen Square.  It’s exquisitely designed by Christine Urquhart. Lighting designer Rebecca Picherack  has shafts of light criss-cross the floor, suggesting each shaft represents a boundary.

It’s directed with energy and imagination by Stephen Colella and Karen Gilodo. Red umbrellas represent the protest in Hong Kong in 2014. The umbrellas rolled up became rifles to be used to tame the crowds in Tiananmen Square in the 1989 protests (both events are melded into this one story). Open umbrellas on the ground represent those killed in the protest.  Antigone (Jasmine Chen)  goes to each ‘fallen person’ looking for her brother, Niekes (Jeff Yung) and flicks the open umbrella so that it collapses and lies flat, hence a dead body. The imagery is vivid.

The cast is very strong, lead by Jasmine Chen as a fierce Antigone. She is firm in her resolve to respect her dead brother and bury him. She stands up to powerful men. The fact that many of the people she defies tower over her, make her resolution that more impressive. As Neikes, Jeff Yung is passionate, intense and headstrong. Aldrin Bundoc as Teo is just as determined in his opposition of his brother. As Kreon, John Ng is fierce in his resolve and will not endure any opposition. It’s a production full of such intense emotion.

I think Jeff Ho has taken a Greek story and made it just as provocative when it’s applied to his Chinese culture.


Jeff Ho is a gifted, sensitive writer who gets to the heart of complex issues. Niekes describes re-education as wiping the memory clean of a person. That’s a vivid image. And the Antigone story is beautifully integrated into the Chinese references of the protests in Tiananmen square and the umbrella protest in Hong Kong when students used umbrellas to protect themselves from tear gas.  It’s political; families are torn by differing view.

I think the plays works beautifully.

Young People’s Theatre presents:

Opened: May 2, 2019.

Closes: May 16, 2019.

Running Time: 75 minutes.

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