by Wes Muilenburg
Most college students don’t want to relive what happened in high school, especially what they were forced to read. Some may have vague memories of Sophocles popping up in both philosophy and literature classes. He is responsible for the classic Oedipus Cycle (yes, the one with the complex), among other works. The University of Northwestern – St. Paul’s theater department aims to upend any expectations with its forthcoming production of “Antigone,” the concluding chapter of the cycle.
Rue Norman, who plays the titular character, said that audiences won’t need to understand the other plays to appreciate “Antigone.” She explained, “The way the play is written gives enough backstory and it all unfolds in such a beautiful way that the audience will be able to catch on.”
The universal theme of family and humanity will allow viewers to relate to the show, no matter what their previous understanding may be. The play details the struggles and drama of two sisters, Antigone and Ismene, and the ruler of Thebes, Creon. According to Norman, the show is ultimately about “a young girl who dies.” If only because of that simple element, “Antigone” establishes itself as a tragedy. Beyond that, the tragedy comes from the fact that “everybody in the show believes that they’re right and that what they’re doing is right,” Norman added.
The show is very empathetic in nature. The characters are obviously sad (usually for good reason), but “Antigone” goes beyond that and shows why the characters are feeling that way.
It may not seem immediately apparent, but the play additionally exemplifies the universal tragedy to be found in anyone living their own truth, instead of God’s truth. Norman hopes “that [audiences] will respond in a way that understands that fact, and that brings them closer to Christ.”
The production is undoubtedly going to be different in tone and presentation compared to other recent Northwestern shows, such as “Mary Poppins” and “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged).” Norman described it by saying,
“It’s sad, and it doesn’t end well. It’s a story that has stood the test of time. It’s taught in schools and kids are usually bored by it. What’s different about it now is that we get to bring it to life. It’s not like ‘Mary Poppins’ where you’re dancing joyfully. It’s a deep, very human, broken story.”
However, this brokenness truly shows the need for a Savior, even if the characters are merely fictional. This layer of relatability will hopefully strike a chord with audiences.
Brian Grandison is directing the show. Last year, he directed Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” at Northwestern. “He is up there in the middle of the stage working the actors as we are discovering who the characters are. He’s very hands-on, so it makes it easy for me to imagine being the character when he’s literally acting right next to me and coaching me,” Norman said.
He brings out the “play” in “playful” by emphasizing the fun and creativity that can be found in the creation of a work of art. The show will undoubtedly, as Grandison often says, “smell like art.”
Performances will be held on April 20-22 and 26-29. Tickets are now on sale.