In Greek, the word “antigone” means unbending. In the Greek tragedy “Antigone” by Sophocles — which will be performed in the Spanos Theatre Nov. 18 to Nov. 20 — that’s just what the main character Antigone had to be to honor her brother.
Despite a king’s demands for her to disgrace her deceased brother by denying him a proper burial, Antigone acts out against her country’s tyrannical leader by burying and mourning her brother.
The story is a tale about two brothers pitted against each other in war. It is a story about civil disobedience, rebellion and the imminent doom that accompanies those who become obsessed with it.
Now, two and a half centuries since the tragedy about war, society and the bonds of family came to the stage, the Cal Poly Theater and Dance Department will perform a never-before-seen version of the play, complete with a new twist.
Sophocles’ play has been adapted many times over the years. It has been slightly altered for language and its characters have sometimes been replaced with more modern versions of their Greek predecessors.
In Cal Poly’s adaptation — written by Al Schnupp, professor of theater and dance at Cal Poly — the actors will pause throughout the play to read letters left at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
The connection between the two wars, Schnupp said, is that both deal with the aftermath of war.
“In both stories questions of honor arise, Schnupp said. “Both stories share the idea of the state versus the individual, civil disobedience, following one’s conscience, maturity, lessons learned … these are ideas explored in both intertwined stories.”
Schnupp first read the letters used at the Vietnam Memorial years ago, he said.
“They were so powerful, moving and heartfelt that I knew years ago, if the opportunity presented itself, I would like to use them in a performance venue,” Schnupp said. “Later, I make the connection of those letters to the dilemma around which ‘Antigone’ is built. The challenge became this: How does one poetically, elegantly, visually give life to the ideas and pain expressed in the letters?”
One of the biggest similarities between the two is the idea of opposing viewpoints.
Walter Kauffman wrote in his book “Tragedy and Philosophy” that German philosopher Hegel said all of Sophocles’ plays have one thing in common: a conflict of opposing viewpoints. In Antigone, the main character is conflicted by her desire to honor her brother and King Creon’s lack of empathy.
Similarly, at the time Vietnam was happening, it was a war unlike any other. There was no clear “good” side or “bad” side. There were more than two opinions about the war on the American side alone. It was about conflicting ideas without a black and white depiction of ”good versus evil.”
What remains constant in both stories is the devastating effects of war. Sometimes it places brother fighting brother as was the case in ‘Antigone.’ The letters that Cal Poly’s students will be reading depict the pain and sorrow felt by the loved ones of those lost to war.
One Cal Poly student who will help narrate the story as well as perform some of the letters to soldiers is theatre arts senior Anna Clauson.
“(The letters) are the heart-wrenching words of real people paying homage to their fallen brothers, sons, husbands and fathers and they complement the story of ‘Antigone’ beautifully,” Clauson said.
Theatre arts freshman Torin Lusebrink will play the role of Haemon, the son of Creon. Lusebrink’s character is in love with Antigone and, like his female counterpart, Haemon has a rebellious side to him. Lusebrink will also play Eteocles, the son of the banished King Oedipus.
“As for doing the show, I wasn’t sure about auditioning,” Lusebrink said. “I’m not a huge fan of acting in serious shows and this one was extremely depressing after reading it. But I auditioned anyway, just for the experience. Now that I’ve been doing this for a while, I’m really glad I auditioned. I forgot how good it feels to do emotionally moving shows, especially one as powerful as this one.”
Even in an environment surrounded by themes of loss and sadness and less than eight weeks of rehearsing, the actors are having fun with the play, Clauson said.
“There’s 10 of us in the ensemble and we’re always finding things to laugh about together,” Clauson said. “Above all, there’s a really great energy behind stage as we work to tell this story well.”
Clauson said seeing the play is a way to give thanks to the men and women who died fighting.
“I view coming to see this show as an expression of gratitude,” Clauson said. “Coming and being a part of the audience is a small way of acknowledging that the men and women who died were real people who made real sacrifices. I think we could all use a moment outside the day-to-day to contemplate what it is to give your life for something.”
Tickets for the show can be purchased at the Performing Arts Ticket Office and online for $15 for general admission and $12 for student and senior tickets. Doors open at 8 p.m.