The Gilbert Theater is nearing the end of its 2017-18 season and will premiere a 2,000-year-old classic with its penultimate production: “Antigone.” The play, opening Friday, April 6, was originally written by the Athenian playwright Sophocles. You have probably heard his name in any English or world history class.
But it’s the director of the play, Montgomery Sutton, you might not have heard of – though he’s no stranger to the Fayetteville theater scene. He spoke with Up & Coming Weekly about the history of the play and how he plans to engage a modern audience.
Sutton has been acting since the age of three. He eventually went on to graduate from New York University’s Tisch School of Arts. He has acted in countless productions in New York City and London, as well as producing, directing and writing his own works.
Almost a year and a half ago, Sutton portrayed Henry V on the Cape Fear Regional Theatre stage. The Gilbert’s artistic director saw that performance and offered Sutton the chance to not only direct but to freely adapt “Antigone.”
Antigone is a woman faced with the tough decision of either doing right by her family or doing right by the rule of law. Going against the King Creon will mean unspeakable punishment.
“To me, ‘Antigone’ is the story of a people who are trying to rebuild themselves in the ashes of a horrific civil war,” said Sutton. “It’s a newly crowned king, who never expected to be in that position again, and a young woman who’s lost everything. These two people are trying to rebuild society in very different ways. It’s the struggle between righteousness, compromise and justice.”
Sutton researched seven different translations of “Antigone” in his efforts to adapt the play. He wanted to establish a context for the traditional story, one that could be translated even better to a 21st-century audience.
“As long as an adaptation is really interested in understanding what the moment of the play is, (it) becomes more dynamic, more approachable, more nuanced, and therefore, I find, way more compelling,” said Sutton.
One way to accomplish the task was enriching the original characters and their storylines. According to Sutton, “Antigone” was written for the Athenians’ Festival of Dionysus. As a result, the stage of the time allowed only three actors, which limited the amount of freedom for character development.
Eurydice, the queen and mother of the story, is one character Sutton fleshed out. In the entirety of Sophocles’ original version, Eurydice has only eight lines of speech.
“(Eurydice) is an incredibly interesting character, potentially,” said Sutton. “I think she’s a character that a lot of us today would be able to relate to in terms of her journey and how she deals with coming into power and how she deals with loss.”
Additionally, Sutton incorporates the historical environment of the play in a very literal way. In place of the standard structure, where the audience faces a raised stage, Sutton wanted to change the Gilbert’s production into a “tennis court arrangement.” Meaning, there will be two rows, each facing the other, with the play action in the middle.
This, according to Sutton, reflects what the audience would have participated in at the Festival of Dionysus. As a result, audience members will not only have to confront their own reaction to the story but their fellow attendees’ reactions as well.
“It’s really thrilling. For everyone, at some moment in the play, you are going to be incredibly upclose and intimate with the experience,” said Sutton.
“Antigone” runs April 6-22. For tickets, contact the Gilbert Theater at 910-678-7186.