Currently playing at the Old Marquer Theatre is an ancient tale of one woman’s struggle against tyranny.
“Antigone,” by Sophocles, is presented by Lux et Umbra, the theater’s resident company, and is directed by Janet Russo, who recently directed Elm Theatre’s “Never Swim Alone.”
Russo chose a modern translation of the play by Paul Woodruff, a University of Texas professor, because of its empathetic portrayal of the characters and the approachability and beauty of its language.
“I read many translations and adaptations, but Woodruff’s work was so accessible,” Russo said. “He writes the way people talk. It is the way sisters speak to one another or how a guard would speak, but all the beauty of the poetry remains.”
Antigone is one of two surviving children of Oedipus, the accursed late king of Thebes.
At the start of this play, her two brothers killed one another in a bid for the throne. One brother, Eteocles, is buried with full honors ordered by the new ruler Creon. The other brother, Polyneices, is declared a traitor and left unburied to rot on the battlefield.
While Creon believes he is doing what is necessary to maintain order in the city, Antigone feels the law is unjust. Despite being a nearly powerless woman, Antigone defies Creon’s law and buries her brother, only to suffer the ultimate consequence for it.
“Antigone” is an enduring statement of the conflict between the need for social order and the feeling that sometimes a higher law must supersede a human law.
The state and the individual, the boundaries of government and the extent of personal choice, and the duties to family and country all find a voice in this play.
Russo, a founding member of the theater companies New Noise and Mondo Bizarro, usually works with original material rather than the classics, but said there is something rewarding about working on a play that has stood the test of time — especially when it speaks to issues still relevant in today’s society.
“I’m struck by the question at the heart of the play,” she said. “What happens when our religious obligations, our familial duty, our own affections and moral compass lead us into conflict with the laws of the state?”
Russo cast all females in this production, saying she is struck with how many talented New Orleans women show up at auditions. But she also wanted to chart a deeper exploration into gender issues.
As a woman in a patriarchal society, Antigone has few resources to stand up for her brother and her religion, yet she still manages a victory.
“The misogynist king is proved to have been in the wrong when he refused to hear sense because it came out of the mouth of a woman, and he suffers because of it,” said Russo. “All of that is already within the play. Performing the play with an all female cast simply helps to bring that element of the story into focus.”
The eight-person cast includes Erin Cessna, Julia DeLois, Lauren Erwin, Abigail Feinberg, Shannon Flaherty, Rebecca Elizabeth Hollingsworth, Jessica Lozano, and Andrea Watson. Each actor also will serve as a member of the chorus, an element critical to the storytelling of all Greek plays.
According to cast member Julia DeLois, being involved in this play has been challenging, rewarding and punishing.
“I didn’t know most of the women before we were cast together,” said DeLois. “But the shortest distance between cast mates is a physically demanding rehearsal process and we certainly had that. We were constantly sore or showing each other our newest bruises. I think the hard work and camaraderie are evident in the final product.”
Sophocles’ “Antigone” is a story which struck a chord with audiences when it first played in democratic Athens nearly 2,500 years ago. So far, this production is showing to sold out houses and the play’s power and importance doesn’t seem to have been diminished by time one little bit.