Theater­work’s Out of Thebes

Out of Thebes

Pasatiempo - - CONTENT - Adele Oliveira

Seven women stand on­stage, sur­rounded by dark­ness. The au­di­ence hears the sound of hun­dreds of ravens in flight, and then, the women be­gin to sing. Their song isn’t made up of known words, and sounds like a mourn­ful in­can­ta­tion. Dressed in dusty blue robes, each woman has a bun­dle that she car­ries as though it’s an un­gainly bur­den. Adorned with rose petals, scraps of parch­ment, and raven feath­ers, the bun­dles con­tain sto­ries and names, writ­ten in books, on bound scrolls, and on loose manuscripts. But the au­di­ence does not yet know this. At the be­gin­ning, the bun­dles are closed, and the women sing their lament.

The play is Out of Thebes, pre­sented by Theater­work and di­rected by David Ol­son. It is the first full-length play writ­ten by An­gela Janda, a mem­ber of the com­pany since 2004. While the play is inspired by Antigone, it would be wrong to call it an adap­ta­tion, or even a retelling. Rather, Antigone is a frame on which to hang the sto­ries of de­fi­ant women through­out history.

Still, Antigone is cen­tral to Out of Thebes. In case you weren’t pay­ing at­ten­tion in 11th-grade English, a quick primer. The play has been adapted by dozens of writ­ers, from Brecht to Anne Car­son, but the best­known ver­sion is Sopho­cles’, writ­ten around 441 BC. Antigone is one of four chil­dren of Oedi­pus and his mother/wife Jocasta. Af­ter Oedi­pus’ death, his two sons, Eteo­cles and Polyne­ices, fight for con­trol of the city-state of Thebes, and kill each other in the process. Creon, Jocasta’s brother, is in­stalled as king and is­sues an edict that Polyne­ices shall not be buried or re­ceive fu­neral rites, which are cru­cial for a soul’s safe pas­sage to the next world. Antigone de­fies her un­cle and un­der cover of dark­ness, gives her brother the fu­neral rites. Antigone’s sis­ter Is­mene at first re­fuses to help, and later tries to ac­cept the blame, but Antigone tells Creon she alone is re­spon­si­ble for her ac­tions and that they were just. As a re­sult, Creon has Antigone buried alive in a cave where she hangs her­self. The play doesn’t end there (there are fur­ther sui­cides, at­tempted mur­der, and curses), but its es­sen­tial mo­ment, and the one that most inspires Out of Thebes, is Antigone’s stead­fast, fa­tal re­sis­tance.

“When I started writ­ing, I asked my­self, ‘Why is this story still rel­e­vant, and what can I bring to it that hasn’t al­ready been said?’ ” Janda said af­ter a re­cent re­hearsal. “We’re still telling this story be­cause it’s pow­er­ful and im­por­tant, and be­cause these sin­gu­lar acts, like Antigone’s, are still with us.”

The women in the play (they’re called “the Phoeni­cian Women”) have dual roles: They func­tion to­gether as a cho­rus, of­ten singing or speak­ing dif­fer­ent lines si­mul­ta­ne­ously, oc­ca­sion­ally to the point of in­com­pre­hen­sion. They also have in­di­vid­ual roles that emerge dur­ing the play’s four “cer­e­monies.” Janda is a mem­ber of the cho­rus; she also por­trays Antigone. In fact, the idea to rein­ter­pret the play came dur­ing Theater­work’s 2011 stag­ing of Jean Anouilh’s 1944 ver­sion of Antigone in an aban­doned city swimming pool. (Janda por­trayed Antigone in that pro­duc­tion, too.) While re­hears­ing and per­form­ing Antigone, Janda wrote a book of po­ems, Small Rooms With Gods, and many lines of di­a­logue in Out of Thebes are lifted di­rectly from her verses.

Dur­ing the four cer­e­monies, dif­fer­ent women are in­voked. Antigone, Is­mene, and Jocasta share the stage with real peo­ple, some of them fa­mil­iar (like jour­nal­ist and suf­frag­ist Ida B. Wells), oth­ers less so, like Razan Zaitouneh, a Syr­ian hu­man rights lawyer. We crisscross history, vis­it­ing Ver­sailles circa the French Revo­lu­tion; a U.S. in­ter­ro­ga­tion camp dur­ing the early years of the Iraq War; and Tahrir Square at the dawn of the Arab Spring. The his­tor­i­cal ref­er­ences are nu­mer­ous and can be ob­scure; many are li­able to fly over the view­ers’ heads, par­tic­u­larly with­out an in­ter­mis­sion dur­ing which to con­sult Google. But Janda isn’t overly con­cerned with the au­di­ence per­haps not know­ing who Lephina Zondo or Max­ima Acuña de Chaupe are. (Zondo tes­ti­fied dur­ing South Africa’s Truth and Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion Com­mis­sion; Acuña is an in­dige­nous Peru­vian en­vi­ron­men­tal and so­cial ac­tivist.)

“Of course, the more back­ground knowl­edge you have, the bet­ter,” Janda said. “But I hope the play is felt as much as it’s un­der­stood.” Her cast­mate Cather­ine Don­avon, who por­trays a cho­rus mem­ber and Jocasta,

added that she hopes au­di­ence mem­bers seek fur­ther in­for­ma­tion about the women in the play.

Out of Thebes ex­plores the ten­sion be­tween what is fated and proph­e­sied and what is a choice. Janda uses re­peated phrases, re­cited over and over, like prayers (one is “You can imag­ine the state the state was in”), which con­trib­ute to a fa­tal­is­tic mood, com­pounded by the fact that we know how Sopho­cles’ Antigone ends. But Janda also re­minds the au­di­ence through­out that there are many ver­sions of Antigone, and she does not die in all of them.

Antigone does die in Janda’s ver­sion, but her death is on a con­tin­uum of re­sis­tance and part of a tra­di­tion of women who do not ac­cept the sta­tus quo. Near the end of the play, one of the cho­rus mem­bers puts it thus: “Some are dead, some are alive, some are alive in ex­ile, some lived in another cen­tury, some are in prison, some are still miss­ing, some are old. Fire in the heart or no — all of those now alive will die/Un­like the gods, we hu­mans are not above dy­ing./And yet, three things re­main:/ One, the story. Two, the cho­rus. Three, hope./Hope, the curl of light on the lip of the earth at day­break.” ◀

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.