Columbia University’s HeForShe and King’s Crown Shakespeare Troupe (KCST) brings Antigone into the twenty first century. Antigone highlights the significance of gender roles and morality in the play that provides a new and fascinating experience for all.
In the past century or so, Sophocles’ tragedy Antigone—arguably his greatest work—has gained an entirely new thematic aura. That is, it is only since the rise of the Nazi Party that Antigone has been performed entirely under the penumbra of resistance to imperial injustice. Yet Sophocles’ tragedy contains few references to the state of the original Athenian audience, instead dedicating itself to thematic and character development. This means that any adaptation of Antigone must do away with the heavy-handed and holier-than-thou political commentary with which we are so accustomed to in this era of American politics—a fact which director Talley Murphy, BC ’17, understands impeccably.
Murphy’s Antigone, a production of Columbia University HeForShe and King’s Crown Shakespeare Troupe (KCST), is really not just the tragic retelling of Antigone’s doomed plight against the Theban tyrant Kreon. While the time slots for each performance are each an hour long—the running of the preview only took 33 minutes yesterday—the full scope of the performance also includes multimedia theatre and crafts. In fact, the partnership with Columbia HeForShe spotlights the role of femininity in the play, as the conflicted Theban king Kreon (Hugo Wehe, CC ’19) identifies the gender of Antigone (Regina Coyle, BC’ 17) and her sister Ismene (Rose Meriam, CC ’19) as indicative of their moral worth.
Yet rather than superciliously browbeat themes of gender disparity beyond what is already appropriately present in KCST’s source material, Anne Carson’s Antigonik, Murphy incorporates Kreon’s misogyny into the tragedy as symbolic of his tyranny. When Wehe’s Kreon demands that his son, Haimon (Schuyler Van Amson, CC ’17, who also plays notorious seer Teiresias, the iconic Messenger/Guard, and “Nick”) not cavort with the Theban women, he asserts that Haimon should “let her snake her way down and seduce some boy in Hell,” an assertion complicated by Haimon’s impending marriage to Antigone. But the presentation of feminine guile and trickery is not pointed out as an evidently condemning quality by the singular Chorus (portrayed by Isabel Daly, BC ’19). Instead, as throughout the play, Kreon’s rage illustrates a sense of tragic absurdity befitting of the Pentheus of Euripides’ Bacchae.
Referring to KCST’s Antigone as a “comedy” in itself would not, however, be proper. Absurdity rebounds throughout the play, as when Kreon lists his “nouns and verbs of the day,” but only to juxtapose the entrenched absurdity of Antigone’s position. That is, Antigone’s burial rights of her condemned brother, whose condemnation arises only from Kreon’s tyrannical whitewashing of history, is simultaneously attacked by Kreon and the Theban institution as an illegal violation of a kingly edict, while Antigone defends the burial rights as “fas,” or what is divinely right. When Van Amson’s blind Tiresias blunders about the stage, casting his Nestorian opinions gathered from ominous birds while Antigone sits in a cage, the absurdity of Antigone’s situation collapses upon itself—a sister is cast alive into the ground for honoring the life of her unburied brother.
Any such preview would little match the promise of Antigone‘s full performance, as I observed only the barebones assembly of the theatrical performance. Yet Murphy’s cast manipulates the ideas of nautral rights and justice in full accordance with the thematic ends of Sophocles’ original tragedy, offering, even in this preview, a clear and distinct motivation to see the full performance. The tension between Antigone‘s thematic ends result in a dialectic of interest to any viewer, suggesting equally the means of civil disobedience against a contemporary tyrant, the injustice of gender relations, and the thin boundaries between legality and morality. Tickets for this exciting and novel performance can be purchased for $2 with CUID at the TIC, for a set of three performances on Wednesday, March 8th in the Lerner Black Box at 7, 8, and 9 PM.
Image via Wikimedia Commons