In "Antigone," Sophocles' classic tragedy, the title character is torn between obeying her uncle, King Kreon, or a higher law. Kreon's warring sons — Antigone's cousins — kill each other in battle. Kreon decrees that only one of their corpses should be buried. The body of the other son should stay outside, where it will be fed on by vultures.
Antigone cannot abide this desecration and goes against her father's wishes to give her brother a proper burial.
The Greek classic has gotten some updates from Canadian playwright and poet Anne Carson, whose 2012 version runs 75 minutes and is getting a Full Circle Theater production that opens Saturday at Mixed Blood Theatre. Oogie_Push plays the title character.
We asked theater co-founders Martha B. Johnson, who is directing the show, and producer Rick Shiomi to tell us about the most intriguing elements of this new translation.
Q: First off, we're used to seeing the title of the play spelled "Antigone." What's the significance of spelling it "Antigonick" here?
MJ: Anne Carson introduces an entirely new and unique character into "Antigonick": Nick. She cryptically describes him in her list of characters as "a mute part," and he's always measuring things. Carson said in an interview that most Greek tragedies are about a person who is too big for the space of life allotted to them. Excess leads to catastrophe. The need to avoid excess hums through these Greek tragedies.
RS: The tragedy of human life is that we live in, and are subject to, time, unlike the gods. So, the idea is about the "nick of time." That Kreon is late to change his mind and save his son, and thus spare Antigone, is at the heart of the tragedy.
Q: Speaking of mute parts and silent characters, tell us about how you're using dance and choreography in this production.
MJ: It's almost like a musical. Sandy Agustin, our choreographer, has created these choral movements that complement the narrative. One chorus is about nothing but the beauty and pain of erotic love, and all of that is interpreted through beautiful movement.
Q: Carson actually did two translations of this play, and this is the shorter version. How did you choose between them?
MJ: She was commissioned to write the longer version, which, by the way, shares some of the same dialogue with "Antigonick." But this is one she felt free to do as she wished as a translator. It's her passion play.
RS: It's tight and action-packed. And between Sandy Agustin's dances and Annie Enneking's fight choreography, it really feels like this lifts the play out of tragedy into something fantastic and phantasmagorical.
Q: What's lost, or gained, by telescoping it to 75 minutes?
RS: There's an immediacy and a more powerful impact because everything happens so rapidly.
MJ: Carson insists this is a translation, not an interpretation, but in many ways it's a haiku-like distillation of the original. Long speeches are embodied in a few pithy sentences or a few words. "Antigonick" is way more accessible to our 21st-century Twitter-fluent audiences while still capturing the essence of the original.
Q: For all its power and relevance, I often think of "Antigone" as a downer. After all, it includes violence, suicide and incest.
MJ: Carson has her own sense of humor, and her version is full of wry commentary by the characters. So, the play is full of humor, as well.
Q: It's also contemporary in some unusual ways, right?
MJ: Carson's version has several references to such famous figures as Hegel, Beckett and Brecht, and she justifies these references with the fact that Sophocles himself used various references to figures in Greek history that appear much later than the original story.
Q: Why do this tragedy today? What makes it especially relevant now?
RS: There's a trend in America toward glorifying authoritarianism. So, this play is about what happens when a leader like Kreon runs things. He's a dictator who's all about his own power. But people like that are the architects of their own destruction.
MJ: The power he gets from being the leader causes his own downfall. And it's all told in beautiful, spare poetry.
By: Translated by Anne Carson. Directed by Martha B. Johnson for Full Circle Theater.
Where: Mixed Blood Theatre, 1501 S. 4th St., Mpls.
When: 7:30 p.m. Thu.-Sat., 2 p.m. Sun. Ends June 4.
Tickets: $5-$35. Pay-as-able. fullcircletheatermn.org.