Sophocles wrote the original in about 442 BCE. Bertolt Brecht wrote his version 2,389 years later, in 1947; it was first produced the following year in Switzerland.
Brecht lived in L.A. (1941-47); he was called before HUAC in ‘47, which leads to one telling detail in his version of *Antigone*: Kreon calls on the audience to condemn Antigone as unpatriotic (a term that was thrown around a lot back in March 2003 — thrown at people who thought maybe we were fighting the wrong war in the wrong place by invading Iraq.)
Brecht wanted to avoid repeating the horrors of fascism and World War II by urging viewers to take seriously the moral imperative of citizens to defy their own governments if and when they turn tyrannical. (If more Germans — and their sympathizers outside Germany — had actively fought Hitler, the Nazis might never have achieved dominance.)
Brecht makes two important changes in Sophocles’ original. In Brecht, Kreon orders Antigone’s brothers, Eteocles and Polynices, to fight together against another city-state in an unjust war; one dies in battle, the other dies while deserting. (In Sophocles, Polynices can’t be buried because he had taken arms against his own city, Thebes.) In the words of a 1957 *Tulane Drama Review* article, “Thus, in Sophocles the treason is armed rebellion, but in Brecht is is rebellion from arms.”
Additionally, Brecht places his action not after the war’s end, but as its end is approaching: Antigone is condemned even as others are celebrating victory.
There's hopefulness in Sophocles' version: the chorus, stepping over a pile of corpses, speaks of what can be learned from such events. But for Brecht, if tyrants are still in power, there can be no learning. In Brecht's version, says one arts blogger, "individuals, whatever their claims to the law, are seduced into vulnerability and smashed into subjection or suicide." Seduced into vulnerability, smashed into subjection — there's a comment on America's citizens today.
Director Brooke Kiener has opted for anachronistic costuming (soldiers in camo pants and breastplate armor, for example) to suggest the timeless, universal appeal of the unending quarrel between the individual and the state. But she’s also restoring multiple Greek chorus members (as opposed to an individual commentator on the action).
There are a lot of extended pro- and anti-war statements made by characters in Brecht’s version of Antigone; playgoers today will filter their reactions through their own opinions of America’s current war in Iraq.
translated by Judith Malina in 2000; directed by Brooke Kiener
Oct.12-13 and 19-20 at 8 pm; on Oct. 14 at 2 pm
Tickets: $7; $5, students and seniors
Whitworth’s Cowles Auditorium, Main Stage