“Antigonick” According to Brother Aidan

Regan Mies and Brother Aidan Putnam

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Like so many of my fellow Prep students every year, I can’t wait to see what our theater department and talented classmates will be able to create for the fall play! The contrast between “Twelfth Night’s” vibrant energy and “I Never Saw Another Butterfly’s” tragic and poignant message goes to show that Prep students have an unbelievable and dynamic range of skill, and I know that whatever their next performance demands, they’ll give it their all, going above and beyond expectation.

This year, the theater department is performing “Antigonick.” The play is a new take on a Greek tragedy that actor Caitlin Skahen told me “is going to be so different from anything Prep theater has seen before.” She added, “The entire show is literally a poem.” Beyond the briefest synopsis (a princess? Dead brothers? Right versus wrong?) I didn’t know much about “Antigonick,” and I definitely wanted to learn more. Naturally, I turned to Brother Aidan, the perfomance’s director, with my curiosity, and he shared with me an incredible analysis and palpable excitement that has only made me more eager to attend “Antigonick” later this fall:

“‘Antigonick’ is a new take on the classic story of a young woman who struggles in conscience against injustice. Antigone and her sister Ismene are daughters of Oedipus, the late king of Thebes. Their uncle, Kreon, now rules Thebes after Antigone’s two brothers died in a civil war. Kreon has ordered that one of the brothers be buried in an honorable funeral, but the other be left to rot in the wilderness. Antigone challenges Kreon’s orders and symbolically buries her brother. When Kreon finds out, he sentences Antigone to execution. Ismene attempts to help Antigone by saying she also buried him, but is ignored. Kreon’s son, Haimon, is engaged to Antigone, and protests the death sentence, threatening to kill Kreon. A blind prophet named Teiresias finally convinces Kreon to change his mind, but by then it’s too late. Antigone has died in a cave, and Haimon has killed himself. 

“While this is a classic tragedy of hubris and irony, where some mortals (read: Kreon) disobey divine law and fall to their own ruin, while other mortals suffer the consequences of speaking the truth, ‘Antigonick’ is different than traditional presentations of the story in several regards. The current translator, Anne Carson, is a poet in her own right as well as a classicist, so she is able to write with a wondrously sharp and invective vocabulary, evoking deep emotion with quick turns of phrase and evocative alliteration, rhythm, allophony and contrast. Carson especially contrasts these poetic techniques with shifts of tone and register, layering in modern references and slang along with formal diction and ancient imagery. 

“It’s that ‘layering’ effect that I’m particularly enthused about for this unique production. For example, Carson’s original publication included the classic Greek chorus, but with a twist: she’s introduced a silent role [‘Nick’] whose only stage direction is that he ‘measures things.’ This metaphorical action invites the audience to participate in the critical questions the ancient story asks: how do we determine what is right and wrong? How can we ‘measure’ what we risk in our lives? How do we learn to evaluate what’s at stake, and thereby judge our choices? In addition, with the advice of resident artist Br. David-Paul Lange and choreographer Leigh Dillard, we’re designing a set that can illustrate the over-lapping layers of meaning and history in this text. Senior Caleb Thompson has proposed projecting video images onto the set during several of the scenes, which may include chorus members interacting with the images as they interrupt, contradict, and otherwise overlap in their speeches. With such production choices, we’re excited to explore how Carson ‘layers in’ our modern predicaments with Sophokle’s ancient story – and I think it’s safe to speak for the whole cast on that!

“One other way that Carson adds layers to the script is by considering the history of how people have received this play. She references philosophers and playwrights who have critiqued, analyzed, and reapplied the story over the centuries. Minor point, but it adds depth. She does not belabor her points, sentimentalize the drama, or sensationalize the tragedy. It’s that deft touch of her writerly hand, illustrated boldly and delicately in the original publication, which drew me to the script.

“Br. Paul-Vincent and I first started to discuss this as a possibility two years ago, after Prep’s production of ‘Twelfth Night.’ Having seen the talent that students brought to the challenge of Shakespearean dialogues, we felt confident that they’d be able to tackle the demands of this modern experiment. Still, we all benefited greatly from the practice of ensemble work that went into performances of ‘Amahl and the Night Visitors’ and ‘Godspell’, for instance. Also, several of the current cast members had the opportunity to study character development in depth with one-acts like ‘A Thousand Cranes’ and ‘I Never Saw Another Butterfly.’ Their work over the past two years, as a group and as individuals, has already contributed to explosive and incisive scenes at auditions!”

“Antigonick” will be performed on Friday and Saturday, November 16th and 17th. Caitlin Skahen shared, “This show will definitely shock the audiences.” We have two months to get excited for the experience–it’s going to be great!

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