We like to think that our own conscience falls in line with the law, but history has shown us that the world we live in isn’t as fair as we would like to believe. Rosa Parks, Liu Xiaobo and Edward Snowden are all examples of citizens who broke the law due to their own moral code. Sophocles’ Antigone, presented by the theatre, dance, and performance studies school at The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, demonstrates why personal conviction often defies legal duty.
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Before the play begins, it’s difficult to ignore the stage, complemented with atmospheric lighting and music. Designed by Matthew Buttrey, the stage was extended over the orchestra pit into the front rows of the audience to facilitate audience interaction, a goal director Lisa Nathans hoped to accomplish.
The show is loyal to the play’s original plot. After brothers Polyneices and Eteocles kill each other in a war, Creon, our show’s protagonist, refuses to subscribe to the laws of the gods and declares that only the body of Eteocles will be buried. But Antigone, with such strong conviction to bury her late brother, disobeys Creon and is sentenced to death.
Most shows featuring a protagonist and antagonist reduce each lead to good and evil. But to truly convey the complex power dynamic within Antigone’s and Creon’s minds, each character is transformed into a triad consisting of a superego, ego and id, an unusual move when adapting a classic play.
“I think the ego and superego are timeless because it’s psychology,” stage manager and senior psychology and theatre major Daniela Gomes said. “I think that was something that kinda made it less ‘hard, classic’ Antigone and brought in a new spin on it so the students could get into it in a different light.”
With three people playing each character, each actor distinguishes themselves by changing the intonation in their voice and using highly emotive facial expressions, tools that also help convey the archaic language seen in Greek text.
The split of each character allowed for both Antigone and Creon to emerge as much more multidimensional characters. When Antigone exclaims, “What man knows anything of women?” her ferocity is seen in a different light, as her rebellion to the state is clearly a product of such a strong human psyche, relentless to be heard.
The show’s dramaturg Victoria Scrimer researched the Freudian aspect of the show and provided information to the actors, then worked with them to determine which part of Creon and Antigone’s psyche would be delivering a line. Actors did breathing exercises to share and respond to the energy of their counterparts.
“One of the biggest things that I had to do to prepare was make a connection to the other two people playing the same part,” senior theatre major and Creon’s ego Ken Johnson said. “There needs to be a certain level of energy that is passed between the three people.”
The original directing proposal for the show called for about nine actors to perform in the Greek Chorus, but Nathans was so impressed with the students who auditioned she requested to increase the chorus’ size to 16.
“I am so pleased that the school supported this request,” Nathans said. “Because with seven additional voices speaking in unison on stage, you can really feel the rumbling of their voices in the theater and feel the powerful presence of the Greek Chorus as they match the huge, heightened scale of the Theban Palace that Matthew transformed the Kay Theatre space into.”
Indeed the chorus is strong, as their entrance in the show’s first sequences is one of the most memorable scenes. Their whispers, powerful and highly synchronized, capture the dilemma in Thebes as the chorus delivers warnings to our female lead and thoughtful advisories to the ruthless Creon.
For Antigone, conscience reigns over fear. To die a death without the feeling of honorability is worse than to die at the hands of the state. By the end of the show, you’re left asking yourself: What is worth breaking the law?