As a theatre major, I’m required to be involved in every production, and that generally means that I attend every performance. So, the fact that I will see Southern Virginia University Theatre’s production of Jean Anouilh and Lewis Galantiere’s adaptation of “Antigone” four times isn’t remarkable on its own.
What is notable is that I want to. (Okay, so maybe that’s also not unusual, but I promise I’m not the only person who’s been happy to see this show more than once.)
I’m going to come right out with the rather embarrassing admission that I was not familiar with the story of “Antigone” before I saw the show. Therefore, I didn’t know what to expect from the performance. I’m even less familiar with Southern Virginia productions of tragedies than I am with “Antigone,” after all. Since I’ve come here, there have been a slew of hilarious comedies and the thought-provoking “Our Town,” all of which I enjoyed, but I was, nonetheless, curious to see how well we could pull off a full-blown tragedy.
The verdict? We do it quite well.
The atmosphere is set the moment house opens — what could be more appropriate than the Gregorian chants softly filling Chandler Hall? And the set — by golly, that set — is perfect. It is probably my favorite of the sets I’ve seen here. And it is made only more awe-inspiring by the skillful lighting throughout the show. The craggy rocks, the broken stained glass, and the generally unwelcome appearance make it evident that this is not the sort of play in which actors use pool noodles as light sabers (as in “A Servant of Two Masters”).
The play is an adaptation of the Greek original and is set in France during World War II. Creon and his men are depicted as Nazis, but the references are subtle. There’s something intriguing about considering the story from this perspective, as a representation of the conflict created by Nazi occupation. However, as I said, the change of setting is unobtrusive. What I appreciated most about the modernity was the effect it had on me — it was easier for me to relate to the characters once the entire experience had been brought a couple millennia closer to home.
As the performance progressed, I was continually impressed by the actors. Not simply because they were skilled but because of the vast differences between the characters they play in “Antigone” and the characters I’ve seen them play in the past. Creon isn’t going to don colorful Sunday clothes and participate in a massive choreographed musical number (as actor Glenn Williams did in “Hello Dolly!”), and Antigone isn’t about to show someone how to add more “bevel” to their step (as actress Gloria Bowden did in “Martin & Margaret & the M.I.N.D.S.W.A.P.”). Instead of making me laugh, they prompted me to contemplate moral and social issues — and they evoked my sympathy.
Southern Virginia’s production of “Antigone” was a step into the dark for many of the actors here, but there they found an entirely new and exciting side of themselves. I left feeling the emotional exhaustion and mental frenzy that every good tragedy induces. Just as importantly, I left with an overwhelming gratitude for being a part of the theatre program at this university and for the opportunity I have to see wonderful people put their all into a performance — and to see it pay off.
There will be two more performances of “Antigone” this Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in Chandler Hall. The house has been packed both nights, so I recommend that you see the play and that you reserve tickets ahead of time. Tickets are $8 for the general public and $6 for senior citizens and Southern Virginia students, faculty and staff. You can purchase tickets in advance by calling 540-261-8464 or stopping by the Student Financial Services Office.
(Post by Madeleine Gail Rex ’16. Photos by Leigh Stoddard.)