Seeing Run of the Mill’s production of Sophocles’ Antigone at the Mill was quite the experience. I got my IPA at the bar and settled into the pew-like seating, and it seemed the show had already started. There were two actors onstage “bro-ing” out: teasing each other, giving “wet willies” and playing with toys. I wasn’t sure what I was getting into.
Suddenly steampunk flower girls entered the stage and began to decorate the space with pieces of ribbon — it was strewn everywhere, like ash after a billowing fire nearby. As the director, Grant Freeman, gave the curtain speech, the two brothers — the characters from the pre-show — ceremoniously changed their costumes to be stylistically matching warriors, in suspenders and boots. Freeman asked the audience, “Does morality overcome law? Does law overcome morality?” as the brothers began to circle each other, like panthers ready for battle.
I was enthralled.
The brothers became Polynices (Parker T Ferguson) and Eteocles (Chris Irvin) and the play began. Starting a play like this initially confused me, but that confusion gave way to curiosity, as I wondered how else the director would bend the veil between play and reality.
The fighting began as Connor Maccabee sang Billy Bragg’s haunting song, “Tender Comrades.” The fight is to the death: The brothers die in each others’ arms. This image, along with Maccabee’s beautiful vibrato, rang in my brain as the play continued. Maccabee wove in and out of the show, blending a spiritual embodiment of Death itself and a chorus leader of chaos.
The title role of Antigone was played dynamically by Marda Rude; her sister Ismane, by Carlee Glenn. The new King, their Uncle Creon (played with a stoic charm by Len Struttmann, reminding me of a candidate on the debate trail) degreed a new law under which Polynices was to be left unburied. In showing their love for their dead brothers, Antigone and Ismane also set the main plot point of the play: Antigone defiantly wants to bury both brothers with honor. But Ismane tries to show restraint and sensibility of their lack of power in the situation, blatantly saying, “We are women; that’s all.”
While Antigone despairs over her brothers’ deaths, she is also charged with anger and ready to honor her brother in spite of the decree. Rude shows Antigone’s fervor with grit and vigor when she says, “Our lives are short, we don’t have time to live by their laws.” Rude’s Antigone has a palpable righteous indignation. She buries her brother, and in turn is arrested and shut up in a cave to die. There is an uprising in the city and more death to come. The play, heavy in theme, was carried out thoughtfully. The Greek Chorus spoke as one a bit messily, but their individual voices soared through the solo readings.
As the play went on, there were many stand-out players. The jester-like soldier who had the burden of telling King Creon of Antigone’s actions was played hilariously by Melissa Kaska. Her steampunk look was also one of my favorites. The use of live singing was also a treat. Songs that were familiar but not overdone were used as transitions and heightened some ritualistic moments. Jen Brown’s rendition of “Jenny’s Song” was hauntingly beautiful.
Jen Brown also portrayed Creon’s wife, Eurydice, first in silent rage and horror, then with visceral threats of the Gods. This quick turn around of emotions was handled with grace by Brown. I found myself emboldened by these strong female characters in front of me risking life for their family’s honor.
Run of the Mill’s Antigone was a great way for new audiences to be introduced to Greek tragedies. The translation was a mixture of 32 different interpretations of the ancient play. It was approachable, but still had the power of the spoken words that theatergoers of the past would appreciate. Unfortunately it was only played one weekend, so if you missed it, you missed out. Their next production of Titus Andronicus will surely be one to see. I’ll be there with a pint of IPA to enjoy it with you.