Ancient play seems new again
All throughout rehearsals, the cast members of English Alternative Theatre’s production of “Antigone” have found themselves asking whether the classical Greek play they’re performing was actually written within the past week.
While this version is an adaptation by German playwright Bertolt Brecht of the original play by Sophocles, it was written in response to the rise of Hitler and the Third Reich, not any modern day events. And still, director Paul Stephen Lim and some of his actors get the uncanny feeling that the play was written in direct response to American military actions in Iraq.
It was that modern feeling, as well as the general context of the original “Antigone,” that led Lim to choose such an old piece for EAT’s only spring production.
“There are a number of Greek plays that never go out of fashion,” Lim says. “‘Antigone’ is often done when there’s an unpopular war going on.”
One part of the play, Lim says, is so reminiscent of the current public disagreements that it’s startling.
“At one point in the play, a crowd is standing around shouting, ‘Bring the troops home.’ I didn’t make that up. It’s in Brecht’s text,” Lim says.
Lim says that, in many ways, “Antigone” is a story of civil disobedience. Two brothers end up fighting on opposite sides of a war with their sister trapped in the middle. In the end, the brother on the losing side of the war dies and is ordered to be left unburied, a fact his sister can not bear. Her actions to bury her brother ultimately lead to the conflict in the plot.
Instead of setting the play in ancient Greece, or even in one particular more modern war, Lim chose to create a kind of amalgam of conflicts to depict the idea of the universal war.
“I didn’t want to do a toga party. I was shying away from that,” Lim says.
The cast for “Antigone” includes a number of Kansas University students, as well as a KU professor and a member of the Lawrence community who graduated from KU. It’s the largest cast Lim ever has directed in an EAT production.
Among the cast members is KU classics professor John Younger, who plays Creon, the king.
Younger, who’s been involved with theater “since I was a kid,” has taught the classical version of “Antigone” a number of times and was startled by the variations in the adaptation.
“There have been numerous moments where we’ve been rehearsing the play and we all look at each other and ask, ‘Was this written yesterday?'” he says.
And while much about the play has changed, Younger says audience members still will see many of the classical elements of Greek theater. It’s very melodramatic with a lot of speech making, he says.
Still, it’s different enough that Younger’s convinced it will resonate with a contemporary audience.
Ryan Klamen, a KU sophomore theater major from Chesterfield, Mo., agrees.
“It’s very different,” says Klamen, who plays Hamon, the son of Creon. “It’s definitely commenting on the current situation with the war in Iraq.”
He says audience members who come to the show should be prepared to see “Antigone” done as they’ve never seen it done before.
“Antigone” will receive four performances, starting today and running through Sunday, and Lim says tickets are selling well. He expects 900 to 1,000 KU students to attend because a number of classes read and study the play.
“And drama isn’t meant to be just read,” he says. “It’s meant to be watched and performed.”