Acting out an unusual role

The amount of family problems plaguing the cast of the classic “Antigone” could make even the most dysfunctional modern family look saintly.

Generic Theatre Company reenacts this salacious Greek tragedy where the young female protagonist Antigone defies her family and kingdom, plaguing the herself with deadly consequences.

Antigone tries to arrange a respectable burial for her brother, when Creon, the ruler of Thebes, orders Polynices to be buried on the outskirts of their city where his body will be eaten. She attempts to bury Polynices herself, but Creon’s guards foil her plot and capture the young heroine.

In a twist of fate, Creon offers to overlook her discretions, but Antigone refuses the repreive.

Kierran Peterson | Hatchet Photographer
Anna Reed narrates a section of ‘Antigone,’ postulating the philosophical implications of the heroine’s fate.

The version the troupe chose to adopt, written by Jean Anouilh, debuted in 1944 during Nazi occupation of France. The adaptation opened under Nazi censorship, but Anouilh slipped in identifiable parallels to French resistance and Nazi occupation.

Despite the wild scenarios and serious moral dilemmas, both the cast and audience said they forged a connection with the story and the heroine’s tribulations.

“I continued going back to reading it, and every time I did, I liked it more and for all the different various reasons. I think I chose to do this piece, because it’s one that consistently, no matter what position I find myself in, I find myself identifying with it,” director TJ Billard said.

Sophomore Samantha Nesfield, who plays the fated heroine Antigone, felt the play was relatable and that it had an added value for a GW audience.

“I think that it has a lot of emotional catharsis,” Nesfield said. “People need to be in touch with the tragic side, not just sad but something that’s genuinely tragic.”

To forge such an emotionally relevant and relatable production, the cast developed roles that were often extremely different from their own personalities, something director Billard says he struggled with.

“If you can create a clear image of the character, even if it’s separate of yourself, it’s easier to become them,” Billard said.

For the more villainous characters, it was about building a role based on what he calls a “paradigm” or “exemplar” of their character and then pretending to take on that persona.

“For this show, you have to make them aware of parts of themselves that they do not notice on the day-to-day basis,” Billard said.

Billard stripped down the traditionally elaborate sets and costumes, which match the complicated plot of the show, to instead create a performance with only the most crucial necessities.

In the original production, the set includes walls, doors and furniture changes, often accented by imagery of Nazi rule or French patriotism. None of these political symbols will appear in this version, in an attempt by Billard to create a more modern and relatable version for college students.

“I took away the set, and I made the audience intentionally more aware of the fact that they are watching a show, so that you can be engaged in the moments where the actors’ emotions are at their highest and you empathize with them. But at the same time, you’re reminded that you’re watching a show, and so you step back and you look at it critically,” Billard said.

The 12-member cast says they feel the effects of Billard’s struggle to create a close environment.

Spencer Frenchman, a senior who plays Creon, described the need to capture a character with a persona so different from his own as a big challenge, echoing his director’s struggles.

“Certain aspects of the character, like when I am supposed to be enjoying how evil I’m being and enjoying the cruelty…that was kind of hard to develop,” Frenchman said.

The Generic Theatre Company’s production of “Antigone” debuts Feb. 23 through 25 in the Lisner Downstage.

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