A spotlight plays off of the golden foil coating the stage floor, reflecting a golden light reminiscent of the sun upon a hijab-clad woman bent in prayer. Not a word is spoken, not a noise is heard. The performance has only just begun, yet the audience is already captivated.
The Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts hosted six sold out performances of “Antigone” in their Black Box Theatre between Oct. 25 and 29. Advertised as being stage-based on feminist Anne Carson’s translation of Sophokles’ well-known work, each “Antigone” poster had the feminist rallying cry “and yet, she persisted” emblazoned across — a graphic which drew many eyes to a performance that may have otherwise been ignored. Yet, this adjective and graphic did not prepare audience members for how powerfully this performance would proclaim the cry for equality when compared to other translations of the traditional play.
“My favorite part was that ‘Antigone’ portrayed a strong female character that was persistent in her truth … I enjoyed that Antigone stood strong about her beliefs and decisions until her end,” Maddison Roberts ’19 raved after her viewing experience. Performed by Jessie Lizotte ‘18, Antigone was undoubtedly this strong female character. She was also the most powerful character in the play, despite her repeated dismissal by antagonist Kreon (Tim Healey ‘20), the Greek chorus which provided information to the audience (Martha Hegley ‘20, Shannon Kelley ‘19, Sean Larson ‘18, Park Lytle ‘21, Maeve Moriarty ‘21 and Emily Ramsey ‘21), and even her sister Ismene (Fallon Sullivan ‘20.) This power, which resulted in Antigone having more control in death than King Kreon ever held in life, was conveyed most profoundly through Antigone’s words, actions and attire.
Antigone’s power as conveyed through her words was felt by both those in the play and those in the audience in the same manner. In the play, the people end up following Antigone. They hear her speeches and, slowly, begin to realize that she is right. They still fear going against King Kreon (the patriarchy), but they agree with her and begin to question and make life difficult for the king. On the other hand, the audience needed no convincing that Antigone was in the right and so were immediately drawn onto her side. Yet, each time she refused to give in to the expectations of the men who surrounded her, fought back and challenged her society’s status quo, or gave one of her inspiring monologues, the same power that converted the play’s characters still enveloped to the audience. This reception often resulted in the audience members’ appreciation being shown through near silent whoops of agreement and the occasional fist pump.
Her power was also conveyed in every movement she made and each line of her attire. After much debate, the costume selected for the protagonist was a plain brown tunic dress cinched with a ‘v’-shaped belt, a traditionally wrapped pink hijab that covered her hair and neck and loose beige pants. Upon first seeing this costume, all I could think of was Malala Yousafzai, a 20-year-old Pakastani activist for women’s education who continued to pursue her mission even after suffering a near-fatal gunshot wound to the head when she was 15 and it turns out that this was completely intentional. When costume designer Julie Leavitt was looking into possible costumes, she drew inspiration from strong, modern women and role models. These women included both Malala and Wonder Woman, a choice that was evident in the form of the ‘v’ shaped belt as well as in how Antigone stood and moved. Back straight, head up, legs spread and hands clenched and pressed into her sides, Antigone’s moments at rest mimicked Wonder Woman’s famed power stance. To add to this power, when Antigone moved, her every step was filled with confidence and careful direction, something emphasized by the sturdy heeled boots she wore, which added extra weight to her steps when compared to the fabric shoes the rest of the cast wore.
“Many [male translated plays] are fine and work well in the classroom to convey the structure, style, plots and characters of the plays, but for the 21st century feminist director, they don’t hold any attraction for production,” Director Martha LoMonaco, the creative influence behind the entire performance, explained. “Why would I want to direct a play that was written and performed by men for an audience of men about male characters who largely degrade women? And then I discovered Anne Carson.” This translation does not vary immensely in wording or action from other translations. Instead, the main variance lies in the spacing of the lines as well as the lack of most punctuation. This makes the work somewhat more difficult to read, but leaves more open for interpretation — which in turn grants the director more opportunity to allow Antigone’s character to flourish. As the play was written centuries ago in Ancient Greek, a language that does not even share an alphabet with English, there is no way to know for sure which translation most resembles the original, but this one should not be dismissed.
There are many more things that can be said and analyzed about this performance of “Antigone.” For one, the lessons of “mercy, humanity, and humility” that “Antigone” taught, which were pointed out by Maeve Nowak ‘20. Then a commendation for the show-stealing chorus members should have a review of their own for their work intertwining their separate lines and actions into elaborate dance. Yet, there isn’t enough space or time to finish giving this performance its due. As the performance concluded, there was no curtain to fall, so the cast wove this limitation into their impactful conclusion. The spotlight from the show’s opening reappeared. In a mimicry of the setting sun, it trailed across the golden theater floor, casting light and shadows throughout the theater as the chorus’ haunting song consumed the room. The chorus’ voices faded with the spotlight until the audience was left in sudden, stunned darkness. The play had concluded, but the performance’s message, movement and power continued to radiate.