The Classical Greek Theatre Festival is always a different kind of theater experience, and not just because the source material goes back to the days when guys like Sophocles, Socrates and Euripides were running around Greece.
The festival is in its 42nd year, and is now run by Westminster College's Theatre Department after being housed for 40 years at the University of Utah. This year's festival features a modernized take on Sophocles' Antigone, drawing parallels to modern political happenings like the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street movements, as well as the importance of social media to those causes.
Hard to say if Sophocles was truly that forward-thinking when he penned Antigone sometime around 441 BC, but this production directed by L.L. West makes the parallels from Sophocles' story to modern times abundantly clear, blending his words with a booming electronic-music soundtrack, and adding to classic-looking costumes with modern props like iPads and cell phones.
For the unfamiliar, the story of the classic Greek tragedy is roughly this: Creon, the ruler of Thebes, must decided the fates of two brothers killed fighting in a civil war; one brother, Eteocles, will be honored as a patriot, while the other, Polyneices, will be left unburied and unsanctified--the worst punishment imaginable at the time. Antigone, sister to Polyneices, manages to bury her brother despite Creon's order, earning his wrath when Creon finds out. He order Antigone entombed alive, with causes the public to last out at the ruler for his unfair treatment of the women seem as simply giving an honorable burial to a member of her family. Creon's own son, Haemon, tries to convince his father of the mood of his people, leading to a bitter fight between the two that, suffice to say, doesn't end well for either of them.
From the beginning, the audience quickly realizes this version of Antigone is going to be anything but traditional. While electronic music booms from the speakers on the Red Butte Garden stage, the chorus starts chanting about "money, success and fame." The program invites the audience to scan a QR code with their smart phones to follow along with the story unfolding on stage, cuing moments to check your phone with an eagle screech through the sound system. It's a clever conceit to modern audiences, and tied in with the mob crowds need to document the protests against Creon on stage through social media.
There were some problems with the production, most of them technical. The need to have the actors talking through remote microphone headsets led to some inconsistency with the dialogue; some lines disappeared into the ether, or were overwhelmed by the sound effects.
Even so, strong performances, particularly by Jared Thomson as the tone-deaf politician Creon and Annie Louise Brings as the title character, helped make Antigone well worth getting up early on a weekend morning. For the most part, the show moves along at a steady clip--total running time is about 80 minutes--with only a noteworthy lag during a lengthy conversation between Creon and the blind prophet Teiresia (Holly Fowers), who arrives to tell Creon how he's displeased the gods.
The Classical Greek Theatre Festival's production of Sophocles' Antigone appears at Red Butte Garden again this weekend, Sept. 29-30, at 9 p.m. Tickets are $15 for the public, $10 for garden members, and $7 for children between 3 and 17.
Dan Nailen has written about music, arts and culture in and around Salt Lake City for Salt Lake magazine, The Salt Lake Tribune and Salt Lake City Weekly since 1998. He's currently a contributor to saltlakemagazine.com, and you can find more of his work at SLCene.com.