Author: John Murray, Class of 2016
It will be readily apparent to any graduate of the Honors Program that the themes of classical art and literature are, sometimes frighteningly, relevant to our contemporary society. Historians take this for granted; I still am amazed whenever it is revealed to me yet again. Twice this summer, it has been by the Theater of War’s production of Antigone in Ferguson at St. Ann & The Holy Trinity Church in Brooklyn Heights.
It is important to note that Antigone in Ferguson is not, in fact, a modern restaging of the Greek play in present-day Missouri. The director’s note says it best: ”The production is not an adaptation set in Ferguson, Missouri, but rather a ritual of mourning and of hope that does not aim to fix a specific meaning to Sophocles’ play, but rather to inspire audience members to voice their truths and explore the infinite possibility of interpretation.”
The production had two parts: the performance itself, and a guided audience talkback afterwards. Impressive and moving as the performance was, the talkback was the real gem of the night. The creative team posed a number of questions about the show and its applicability to modern times, first to a curated panel, but then to the audience at large. Responses varied, as one might imagine, to the standard, “What about the show felt relevant today?” The theme of civil disobedience was a popular subject: Antigone’s actions were compared to disruptive protests or providing assistance to migrants from the southern border. The words of the creative team ring true: “At its core, Antigone is a play about what happens when personal conviction and state law clash, raising the question: When everyone is right (or feels justified), how do we avert the violence that will inevitably take place?”
For me, the most striking and awe-inspiring moments of the night occurred when someone voiced a thought that seemed to come from the deepest, most genuine parts of their soul. It would be a simple observation, or an interpretation of some passage, or a feeling that was inspired in them by a single line of the text. The speaker might be an elderly man, or an eight-year-old girl, or a high school boy. They might fumble with their words, but the message was clear: something in this production had moved them, to the extent that they wanted to speak it aloud in front of a hundred strangers.
Discourse—not to score participation points in a classroom, but as raw, unfiltered expression that cannot be kept to oneself. That, to me, is a magical part of theater: the ability of a play and its actors to capture the human experience so well that the audience walks away changed, as if we ourselves had lived through all the emotions and the events that transpired before us. It is, in this production, also a testament to the timelessness of the themes Sophocles chose to put on display and how inextricably intertwined they are with that human experience. We will never be able to fully correct the blindness that our pride imposes upon us, and there will always be a struggle of the governed against their governors. Love will inevitably come into conflict with law so long as both exist. Failure to heed the warnings of our conscience and of the wise will end in tragedy.
It is a great privilege of living in this city that such an event can be made accessible to all. Concerned citizens, thoughtful scholars, inspired activists, and random passerby are strongly encouraged to avail themselves of the opportunity to be moved, educated, and challenged by the space that productions like Antigone in Ferguson build for us.