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'Antigone' review: Ivo van Hove's fresh, fast vision pays off

Juliette Binoche and Patrick O'Kane in a scene

Juliette Binoche and Patrick O'Kane in a scene from "Antigone." Credit: Jan Versweyveld

The headliner -- and riveting center -- of "Antigone" is Juliette Binoche, the Oscar-winning risk-taker with the delicate features belying her tensile power. The storyteller is Sophocles, in a lucid, vibrant, terrifically reasonable modern translation by poet Anne Carson.

But the news right now, at least in New York, is Ivo van Hove. Although the iconoclastic Belgian director's brilliance, and often his outrageousness, are well known throughout Europe and in downtown Manhattan, the stark, fast-moving updated "Antigone" at BAM is the kickoff of the city's unofficial van Hove year.

In November, his Olivier-winning production of Arthur Miller's "A View from the Bridge" opens on Broadway. In December, he directs "Lazarus" -- based on "The Man Who Fell to Earth," the 1976 movie starring David Bowie -- starring Michael C. Hall with a score by Bowie, at van Hove's local haunt, the New York Theatre Workshop. And in the spring, he is back on Broadway with Miller's "The Crucible," starring Ben Whishaw and Sophie Okonedo.

This 100-minute "Antigone," a rewarding coproduction of London's Barbican and other European theaters, is relatively straightforward for van Hove. It is also elegant and thoughtfully moving in its tragic horror. Two-thirds of the design by Jan Versweyveld, part of the director's regular team, is a stretch of gray stage dominated by a huge orb, which changes from sun to moon to eclipsed wonder. There is also a rectangular hole into which corpses magically disappear.

But just below the abstract stage and flat against it is the sleek suggestion of a modern office. It is there we watch Kreon (the shark-smooth Patrick O'Kane), the new king of Thebes in an expensive business suit, discuss Antigone's fate with the Greek chorus -- that is, royal advisers, who also double as family members and alarmed citizens.

We first meet Antigone on a wind-swept plain, failing to persuade her sister Ismene (Kirsty Bushell) to join her in burying her brother, considered a traitor whom Kreon dooms to rot in the sun. Binoche's Antigone, dressed in billowing black shirt and pants, has a headstrong recklessness that never questions the gods' truth above mere mortals. Let's not forget she is one of four children of Oedipus, described here as the "poor awful child of poor awful Oedipus."

As Kreon refuses to be "bested by a woman," loved ones and employees ask ever-modern questions about whether rules of the "fatherland" trump greater truths. An undercurrent of muttering drone is the dominant music, while videos -- especially the Oedipus family home movies -- keep wrenching us back to the humanity beyond the agonizing smart talk.

WHERE BAM Harvey Theater, 651 Fulton St., Brooklyn, through Sunday

INFO $30-$150; 718-636-4100;

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