It’s OVER 2,000 years old, but Sophocle’s tragedy Antigone still resonates with audiences today.
Antigone will be presented Nov. 9, 10 and 11 at 7:30 p.m. in Armstrong Atlantic State University’s Jenkins Theater. This is the third show and first main stage production in a season that is devoted to celebrating the Masquers’ 70th anniversary.
“This season, we’re focusing a lot on incorporating as many alumni into the season as possible, since it’s the 70th anniversary celebration of the first performance at Armstrong,” Mario Incorvaia, arts marketing director for AASU, says. “The set designer for this production is Meghan Potter, who’s also one of our alumni.”
The director is an alumnus too. Anthony Paderewski is balancing directorial duties at AASU with an acting job in North Carolina.
“The story of Antigone reflects the story of Oedipus Rex,” Paderewski says. “It focuses on the daughter and how the curse affects everyone in the family.”
This version isn’t Sophocle’s original play, which is several hours long, but rather, it’s a modern retelling of the story by French playwright Jean Anouilh. “It’s a lot shorter and the language is a lot easier to understand,” Paderewski says.
There are 11 people in the tragedy. To prepare for their roles, the cast participated in a workshop.
“We’re trying not to focus on the acting, but on the feelings coming from the scene,” Paderewski says. “It’s a different show every night, depending on what the actors are going through on stage.”
Emotions may run high with this story line.
Polyneices and Eteocles, two brothers leading opposite sides in Thebes’ civil war, have both been killed in battle. Creon, the new ruler of Thebes, has declared that Eteocles will be honored and Polyneices disgraced by having his body left unburied.
Antigone and Ismene are the sisters of the dead brothers, the last surviving children of Oedipus. As the play begins, Antigone brings her younger sister outside the city gates late at night for a secret meeting.
Antigone wants to defy Creon and bury Polyneices’ body. Ismene is horrified, and tries to talk her sister out of doing such a drastic, deadly action.
When Creon learns his orders have been defied and Polyneices has been buried, he’s furious. When Creon questions Antigone, she doesn’t deny what she’s done, citing her religious and moral beliefs.
Antigone is betrothed to Haemon, Creon’s son. At first Haemon seems willing to honor his father’s decree, but when his father refuses to spare Antigone, Haemon becomes angry and an argument ensues.
At last, Haemon leaves, vowing never to see his father again. Creon orders Antigone to be imprisoned in a cave.
Creon eventually decides to bury Polyneices and free Antigone, but it’s already too late. He learns that Haemon and Antigone have both committed suicide.
“The play makes a lot of religious references,” Paderewski says. “I make references to what’s going on in our world today.”
People all have different political views, and Paderewski believes his audiences also will differ. “There will be people who side with King Creon and people who side with Antigone,” he says.
“Antigone is following her heart and religious beliefs while Creon is following the law,” Paderewski says. “It is a story about separation of church from state.”
Sophocles was born in 496 BC at Colonus, near Athens, and died 90 years later. He lived during the Golden Age of Greece, and was revered for his genius as a playwright and philosopher.
Greek drama was a highly stylized art form in which the actors wore masks, and the performances incorporated song and dance. The Chorus was a group of people used to act as narrators of the action on stage.
In ancient Athens, the Dionysia, which was the festival of the god Dionysus, lasted four to five days. As part of the festivities, Athenians watched plays on each of three days -- three tragedies and a satyr play -- a light comedy based on a mythic theme.
These plays were written by tragedians and comedic playwrights selected beforehand. At the end of the festival, the tragedians were awarded first, second, and third prize.
Sophocles’ first drama won first prize at the festival of Dionysis in 468 B.C. At the time of his death, he had written more than 120 plays, of which only seven survive.
During his life, Sophocles won the first prize at the festival of Dionysis 24 times. Even during the years he competed but didn’t win, he captured second place.
Although in many ways Sophocles was conservative, his characters are tragically flawed. However, their actions make them heroes.
Not only did Sophocles live a long life, it was a productive one. He continued to write and serve in government well into his eighties and died in 406 BC, just two years before the fall of Athens.
When Paderewski was asked to direct Antigone, his first reaction was, “Good Lord, not THE Antigone!” Fortunately,he learned it was Anouilh’s version.
Originally produced in Paris during the Nazi occupation, Anouilh’s Antigone was an open slap at the Nazis and the Vichy government. His countrymen embraced it as theater of resistance, much as young people in the 1960s and 70s saw it as a play that flouts the Establishment and depicts young people defying their elders.
While the play still happens in Thebes, in some productions, Creon and his men are portrayed as Nazis. Paderewski‘s version portrays the characters as very modern, wearing business suits.
“But there are also timeless characters, like the messenger and the nurse,” Paderewski says. “They’re dressed in more period style clothes.”
Alumnus Ashley Robinson returns to AASU to play the part of the Greek Chorus. “The focus is on her as a narrator who fills in the gaps,” Paderewski says.
“It’s a good show,” he says. “It opens up our eyes to what’s going on right now, with the war in Iraq and the different viewpoints about it. We all have to make choices and follow through on them.”
Paderewski currently has a recurring role on the television drama One Tree Hill. “I’ve been in North Carolina for filming,” he says.
“It’s nothing huge, but it’s a step in the right direction,” Paderewski says. “I’m a working actor and I have a couple of agents. Now I’m eligible to join the Screen Actors Guild.”
While Paderewski wants to focus on acting, he also loves directing and producing plays. When he was invited to return to AASU to direct Antigone, there was no doubt in his mind that he would do it.
“Getting to do something I love to do is exciting,” Paderewski says. “It’s the end of the Yellow Brick Road.” ç
Sophocles’ classic Greek tragedy Antigone, as revised by 20th century French playwright Jean Anouilh, will be presented Nov. 9, 10 and 11 at 7:30 p.m. at Armstrong Atlantic State University’s Jenkins Theater. Tickets are $8. For tickets or information, call 927-5381 weekdays between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.
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