Sometimes I wonder why plays as old as Antigone are still kicking around and getting produced. I wonder if maybe it’s because, as people, we’ve just gotten used to having them around, or maybe it has to do with the fact that only a few ancient Greek plays—generally considered the roots of contemporary theatre—have not been destroyed. A powerful argument for classical theatre is that the stories still speak to audiences, showing that people are, essentially, people, and that they don’t really change that much from one millennium to the next.
Directors Bryn Kennedy and Rachel VanDuzer collaborated to bring Antigone to life, using Jean Anouilh’s translation and a striking aesthetic. A predominant theme in Antigone is family and relationships—who is related to whom, who killed whom, and what you’re going to do about it. The pull of family is so strong it’s out of human control, shaped instead by the three fates and chorus members (Alma Sarai, Kyle McDonald, and Emily Clarke), who guide and manipulate the story.
The play opens with the chorus sitting at a table, having a drink and cutting pieces of string from a ball of red yarn. The walls around them are black frames crisscrossed by red string. From there, each character is in some way tied with red string, “confined within the walls of their bloodline and the […] pull of their oppressive family ties”. Antigone (Khira Wieting) dares to cross this age-old system in order to bury her brother, in defiance of King Creon’s orders, and she pays for her choice. But whether Antigone brings her fate upon herself or Fate inflicts it upon her is not clearly revealed.
According to the directors’ notes, Anouilh’s version of the play specifically calls for spatial and temporal ambiguity. I’ve seen and studied a lot of realistic theatre in my life, but I continue to enjoy deciphering non-literal staging and costuming. You don’t have to move a period-appropriate living room onto the stage for me to understand what’s going on. The costumes were equally ambiguous, picking up on both contemporary and classical styles of dress and finding the middle ground in between.
A result of this ambiguity is that characters formed strong, layered relationships, which I enjoyed watching develop onstage, but also allowed me to understand the layered people whose lives began before the play. Antigone proved a strong ensemble show, and each actor had a very clear understanding of their character’s objectives. The one challenge that was sometimes apparent was the long scenes. Keeping lengthy conversations fresh is not an easy task.
The standout performances included Creon (Brett Houghton), Antigone, and Nurse (Victoria Dennis), all of whom brought life and energy to roles that were, especially in the cases of Creon and the Nurse, quite unlike their own characters.
“Something that was both a challenge and reward of directing Antigone was the amount of creative licence that Jean Anouilh’s adaptation provides,” said Kennedy and VanDuzer. “Using this licence as an opportunity, our goal was to translate the specific world that we had created in our heads onto the stage.”
Antigone was part of the UTM Drama Club’s annual production and ran from February 5 to 7.