With 'Antigonick,' Salvage Vanguard Embraces And Challenges The Canon

Mar 20, 2019

Salvage Vanguard Theater is currently presenting Antigonick, a modern translation of Sophocles’ Antigone.

“The translation’s by Anne Carson, and she is a well-known poet and experimental fiction writer, and a photographer, actually,” says director Diana Lynn Small. “It was published in 2012, and it was published as a hardbound book. The pages are handwritten by her and there’s beautiful illustrations by Bianca Stone. She didn’t necessarily write it to be performed, but it is starting to be performed around the country by experimental companies and dance theater companies.”

For folks who maybe haven’t read Antigone since high school, if at all, it’s the third play in Sophocles’ Theban play cycle, following Oedipus Rex and Oedipus at Colonus. The story concerns Antigone, the daughter of Oedipus, and her quest to bury her brother against the wishes of her uncle Creon, the recently anointed king of Thebes.

“So, like many Greek dramas, the play pits two sort of ideals against each other… do you abide by the laws of the gods or do you abide by the laws of authority?” Small says. “And Creon is sort of this character for authority and Antigone is this character for piety. And the exciting thing about Anne Carson’s translation is [that] the translation is in conversation with several different translations of Antigone and interpretations of Antigone over the course of history. She’s looking at how different male philosophers have looked at the role of Antigone and the character and is sort of questioning the sexism behind that. She’s investigating the nuanced, sort of human nature behind both Creon and Antigone. Antigone isn’t this sort of maternal, virtuous character and Creon isn’t this villainous, misogynist [character]. Both of those characters represent parts of us.”

“[At] Salvage Vanguard Theater, we do mostly new works and we do experimental work,” Small says. “And I had this feeling like I wanted Salvage Vanguard to be in conversation with canonical work, but in a subversive way. And so when I was thinking about what that could possibly mean, then I looked up on my bookshelf and I saw, ‘Oh! Antigonick – this book I bought five years ago – we should do this play.’ It is feminist until it is not – you know, Anne Carson is not a political person, but she is a poet, and she sees the sort of multiplicity and nuanced humanity in all people and characters. The translation itself is doing a lot of interrogating of canonical work, which is super important to Salvage Vanguard’s mission – to be suspicious of who gets to decide what’s in the canon, who gets to interpret what’s in the canon, and whose voices get to be heard.”  

"Antigonick" runs through April 6 at the Dougherty Arts Center.