of mother and son. Antigone and her sister, Ismene (Gemma Harris) are their daughters; their older brothers, Polyneices and Eteocles, have killed each other in war, fighting for leadership of Thebes. Creon, Jocasta’s brother, took on the throne reluctantly at first; but by the time of the action in the play, he has embraced his role as arbiter of life and death if not with enthusiasm than with the same tunnel vision and singularity of purpose that have defined (and marred) leadership, nation building, and party politics since time immemorial.
“The play is dark, even sort of terrifying, but it’s also beautiful,” Olson said. “In our own world, now, we’re wrestling with all sorts of things over which we have no control, but as the play says, in the nearly 3,000 years since Sophocles wrote it, there have been many Antigones. I put a photo on the callboard, from the March 20 New York Times, of a group of women in Yemen, standing in silent protest with their [faces covered], except for one woman, who had her face [uncovered]. I told the cast, ‘ There she is.’ And we don’t know what price that woman had to pay for appearing in The New York Times that way. Probably a terrible price. Antigone plants her feet over one issue — covering the body of her dead brother — and that’s the moment. Creon tries to tell her that Polyneices isn’t who she thought, that he was a scumbag, but it doesn’t matter. Her obligation is to cover his body, and Creon can’t make the choice for her.”
Olson is setting his play about 50 years in the future — “just imagining some of the outcomes of some of what we’re seeing in the news right now. We’ve added a group of young women who come up out of the deep end and become attached to Antigone’s story, and we have a composer, Robert Jager, and a choreographer, Karen Brettschneider, working with us on the musicality — both literally on the score as well as on the way words are spoken.”
Santa Feans who are especially intrigued by the Antigone story have the opportunity to hear Olson lecture on April 18 and see a staged reading of Sophocles’ Antigone by St. John’s College students, directed by Olson and performed outdoors on April 23. And on April 20, five female poets who have written poetry in response to the story perform their work at 333 Montezuma Annex. Lines from their poetry were incorporated into the set and costumes of the Theaterwork production. “The major idea here is youth challenging tyranny and what it means to say no,” Olson said in reference to the graffiti-like scrawls on the actors’ overcoats and the bottom of the swimming pool. “Creon tries to convince Antigone to say yes to life, and she’s willing to say yes to life, but she’s not willing to say yes to tyranny. So she has to choose. Anouilh took a big risk in telling such a story, because no one wanted to go to Auschwitz for being in a play. We’re seeing that, aren’t we, in the streets of Yemen and Syria? I’m not saying there’s any comparison between what’s going on there and being in a play, but the themes are the same. Where are the lines drawn around justice? Freedom? And then, if the lines are drawn, where does one stand on those lines? The play is dark, but the telling of the story is not a dark thing to do. It’s kind of an encouraging thing to do. In this [pool] that was abandoned, that had no other purpose other than storage, we can say to each other that no matter how dark or troubling things become, people are so capable of not being paralyzed but making something in response.”