‘Antigone faces her hu­man­ity. She is go­ing through fear, then anger, then aban­don­ment.’

The Washington Post Sunday - - DIVERSION - Pe­ter.marks@wash­post.com Antigone by Sopho­cles, in a new trans­la­tion by Anne Car­son. Di­rected by Ivo van Hove. Oct. 22-25 at the Kennedy Cen­ter, 2700 F St. NW. $79-$185. Call 202-467-4600 or visit www.kennedy-cen­ter.org.

East Side, re­flect­ing on the ori­gins of the new adap­ta­tion of “Antigone” that van Hove di­rects and in which she stars. She’s headed to the Kennedy Cen­ter’s Eisen­hower Theater this week for four days of per­for­mances and an end to her jour­ney with the play, one that be­gan with its pre­miere in Lux­em­bourg in Fe­bru­ary and took the in­ter­na­tional cast to, among other places, Ed­in­burgh, Brook­lyn and Ann Ar­bor, Mich.

Af­ter a per­for­mance at the Brook­lyn Academy of Mu­sic’s Harvey Theater the night be­fore, she is on this late week­day morn­ing in comfy off-duty at­tire: a black-and-white check flan­nel shirt and black pants, and her de­meanor is open, ea­ger for an ex­change about the play. That she had to win over van Hove to her pref­er­ence — and that he then en­gaged the es­teemed Cana­dian poet and clas­sics pro­fes­sor Anne Car­son to con­trib­ute a spare new trans­la­tion of Sopho­cles’s play — have given her an ex­cep­tion­ally per­sonal stake in the pro­duc­tion’s fate. (The re­cep­tion here and abroad has been mixed, with some crit­ics prais­ing the level of in­ven­tion and oth­ers find­ing the de­sign con­ceits pre­ten­tious.)

Binoche vol­un­teers that she did have a few qualms about the role her­self — but mostly hav­ing to do with the amount of off­stage time en­dured by Antigone, who’s unseen for long stretches of the 100-minute drama. The daugh­ter of Oedi­pus and Elec­tra, Antigone in Sopho­cles’s play is a woman whose de­fi­ance of the state, in ser­vice of her own be­lief in what is right, spells her ruin. The king of Del­phi, Kreon, has or­dered that the body of her re­bel­lious brother Polyneikes not be given the dig­nity of a burial. Though no love was lost be­tween her and her brother, Antigone ig­nores the king’s edict and per­forms the sa­cred rite over Polyneikes, en­rag­ing Kreon and plant­ing the seeds of her own demise.

For Binoche, the play is about Antigone’s spir­i­tual trans­for­ma­tion, her as­cen­dance to a higher plane of self-aware­ness, one the other char­ac­ters don’t seem to com­pre­hend. “It’s a knowl­edge of who you are, and what you’re do­ing here on Earth,” she says, that an­i­mates the drama. “What the play is also say­ing is, ‘Re­mem­ber where you came from.’ And so what hap­pens is Antigone faces her hu­man­ity. She is go­ing through fear, then anger, then aban­don­ment.”

The ac­tress says she asked both van Hove and Car­son whether the stages of Antigone’s in­ner trans­for­ma­tion could be made more ex­plicit — by giv­ing her more stage time. “When I read the play, I thought, ‘Well, I dis­ap­pear,’ ” she says. “It was go­ing to be a long tour, and I didn’t want to be mis­er­able in the dress­ing room. I wrote an e-mail to Ivo to tell him all of the places where we could ex­pand the part.”

This did not sit par­tic­u­larly well with Car­son, who she re­ports, replied, “No, this is what it is.”

Still, she and her di­rec­tor did man­age to add some busi­ness for Antigone, in­clud­ing re­as­sign­ing to her some of the lines of a mi­nor char­ac­ter and more im­por­tant, cre­at­ing a scene in which she silently dresses her brother’s body with oils and places it in the earth. “I did some re­search with rit­u­als, and I chose what I felt was right for the scene,” the ac­tress says. That in­cluded the in­ton­ing of a prayer, oc­ca­sion­ing an­other re­quest of Car­son. “Do you mind writ­ing a prayer for me,” Binoche says she asked the trans­la­tor, “that I’m not say­ing out loud?”

Car­son agreed to do it, the ac­tress re­counts, and the mo­ment be­came known as “the fake prayer for Juli­ette.”

That Binoche’s will might be a match for Antigone’s was ap­par­ent be­fore this ven­ture. It’s a char­ac­ter­is­tic that has been ev­i­dent over the years in her eclec­tic film projects, though she re­mains best known for her per­for­mances in 1996’s “The English Pa­tient” and in the 2000 com­edy “Choco­lat,” for which she was nom­i­nated for a best ac­tress Academy Award. The daugh­ter of Parisian stage peo­ple — her fa­ther was a di­rec­tor and her mother an ac­tress — Binoche has re­turned again and again to theater, most promi­nently in this coun­try in a 2000 re­vival on Broad­way of Harold Pin­ter’s “Be­trayal,” with Liev Schreiber and John Slat­tery. She gar­nered a Tony nom­i­na­tion for her por­trayal. Her tog­gling be­tween stage and screen con­tin­ues this fall, with her role along­side An­to­nio Ban­deras, James Brolin and Lou Di­a­mond Phillips in “The 33,” a film about the or­deal in 2010 of 33 Chilean min­ers trapped for more than two months be­neath the Earth.

For the mo­ment, though, Binoche is fo­cused on clos­ing the cir­cle with Antigone. “I love the smell of the theater,” she says. “It’s in my blood. The priv­i­lege of act­ing is re­ally em­body­ing a char­ac­ter and find­ing the truth of it, and liv­ing it.”


Juli­ette Binoche stars di­rec­tor Ivo van Hove’s Kennedy Cen­ter-bound “Antigone.” The French ac­tress has achieved big-screen stardom in movies such as “The English Pa­tient” and “Choco­lat” and stage suc­cess in pro­duc­tions such as the 2000 Broad­way re­vival of Harold Pin­ter’s “Be­trayal.”

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