Stand up for what you believe in and learn from history’s mistakes are two big themes in a new play at College of DuPage.
Theater students present “The Dreams of Antigone” in the Playhouse Theater of the McAninch Arts Center at College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn. Performances are 8 p.m. Thursdays to Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays.
The play is written by Curt Columbus, former associate artistic director of the Steppenwolf Theater Company, and directed by Connie Canaday Howard. It is a contemporary adaption of a Sophocles original piece. It is not set in modern times; it is set in 5th century BC, but the language has been contemporized and there are some parallels to current U.S., Howard said.
A post-show discussion is scheduled for April 18.
“Really, the play is driving home the idea that … both sides are right. It’s looking at how to make the best choice in very difficult circumstances,” she said. “It’s encouraging people to look at other perspectives and not just your own.”
The play is a tragedy. There’s death and scandal and political power plays. Antigone is the rebel heroine who wants to give her brother a proper burial, against the traditions of the time and King Creon’s objections. Creon, the king of Thebes, is the father of Haemon, Antigone’s fiancé. He’s also Antigone’s uncle.
She defies the rules, buries him anyway and pays the ultimate price. Her fiancé follows her to the grave, as does Creon’s wife.
“At the end of the play, Ismene, Antigone’s sister, is talking to Creon, who has lost a lot,” Howard said. “He’s lost his son and his wife at that point. She says, ‘Here’s Antigone, we’re going to start the story again.’ And he says, ‘Let me forget her now.’ And she says, ‘No you can’t, the story has been re-told for thousands of years.’ And he says, ‘Then why show her to me.’And Ismene says, ‘I’m not showing her to you, I’m showing her to them, the people.’ And it’s showing Antigone to the audience.
“The purpose in looking at old stories, at least in this version’s point of view, is not specifically for the short story itself, but it’s to look at how it applies to the world today. There’s a reason why stories are told and re-told, and it’s because the themes are universal.”
Deep stuff. Despite that, it’s fast-moving and surprisingly accessible, she said.
“We’re teaching the script in some of our classes this year and it’s one of the scripts that students love the most because it is so accessible,” she said. “It’s about when do you stand up and speak about something that you think is wrong. When do you really have to stand up, even though you know that you’re in the minority, because something’s just wrong.”
Columbus chose to keep it in 5th century B.C. to show that there is no time period in history we can’t learn from.
“There is the possibility of forgiveness in any moment, and then you can allow yourself to look at other perspectives and assure yourself that you are making the best possible choice,” she said. “The world isn’t black and white and you have to decide where you stand in any moment — in personal relationships and political choices — in what you believe is the most right. I think the play is a call to action … in this society, if we’re going to complain about anything, then we have to vote and we have to be active, otherwise you don’t have the right to complain. So the piece is really a call to action about being a responsible, informed citizen.”
People who enjoy strong dramatic action and debate — both personal and societal — will really enjoy this play, she said.
“Honestly, everyone is going to get something out of this because the internal conflict comes from familial relationships, so it’s very personal,” she said. “Antigone and Haemon are a love story that really should have been allowed to flourish and got cut short because of temper and inflexibility and misunderstanding.”
It’s fast moving and has something for everyone, she said, including sword play and lots of movement.
“It is breaking the fourth wall in many ways,” she said. “What I think Columbus is really saying, and what this production is really saying, is that we are all in this life together. We can make this life better if we support one another. It’s within each of our power to do that.
“It is hopeful because it really is about us moving forward,” she said. “I think that’s a benefit. We know this isn’t happening right now, so we have the ability to not make those same choices and end up in this tragic situation.”