Wednesday, April 18, 2018

A Cliff's Edge

Then know this: where you are standing now
Is a cliff edge, and there’s a cold wind blowing.

~Tiresias, The Burial at Thebes

It is probably safe to assume that if you are reading this blog you are at least somewhat familiar with theatre KAPOW. It is probably equally as safe to assume that if you are somewhat familiar with theatre KAPOW you are aware of the company’s relationship with the Antigone. Every year for almost six years now, theatre KAPOW has produced The Burial at Thebes, a version of the Antigone, at St. Anselm College. So, when I recently heard an interview with Lucas Hnath, playwright of our current project, The Christians, in which he said, “the bones” of his play are the same as the Antigone, it definitely changed my perspective on the piece.

When we do The Burial at Thebes, we often discuss how much like a courtroom drama the show is. Creon and Antigone go back and forth and the chorus (and the audience) is swayed one way or the other. In The Christians, there is a similar courtroom dynamic. The tension from both pieces comes from the conviction of their characters. Characters on both sides are absolutely convinced they are right and are capable of articulating their sides really well.

While there are some similarities in the plots of the two plays, the real parallels between The Christians and Antigone are found in the relationships. The dynamics of the father/son relationship for example are very present in both pieces. As is the relationship between the leader and the elder. In Antigone the prophet Tiresias comes to Creon and warns him that that his actions will lead to disaster. Similarly in The Christians we see Elder Jay come to Pastor Paul and warn him about how his sermon may cause problems with the church community.

**As an aside, one of the greatest things about having a company of actors that work together frequently is that they bring every character and every relationship from previous shows to each new show. In this case, Peter Josephson who plays Creon in The Burial at Thebes and Elder Jay in The Christians has in those two roles played both the warned and the warner. It’s a detail that perhaps only the most diehard of tKAPOW fans will catch, but I think it adds a depth to the company’s work that wouldn’t exist if we worked with new actors for every show.**

While he may bristle at the comparison, but another similarity between the work of Lucas Hnath and Sophocles is an incredibly poetic efficiency in the use of language. At one point a musician friend of mine told me that in music the rests are just as important as the notes. That’s how it is with both The Christians and Antigone. Both plays are relatively short but so skillfully crafted that they land with more impact than most longer plays. The information communicated in a look or a breath is sometimes even more powerful than what is said aloud. In one scene of The Christians there is a page with only 17 words on it. It comes at a critical moment and the stakes are incredibly high. Many playwrights would overwrite this sequence, but Hnath lets it breathe. He lets the subtext dominate and allows the text to take a backseat. Like the composer using rests, Hnath expertly creates a piece where what he doesn’t write is as important as what he does.

I will be so curious to take part in conversations with audiences following The Christians. I recently had a conversation with Bryan Doerries, the Artistic Director of Theater of War Productions, who said that the basic tenet of their work is that the audience knows more than they do. tKAPOW truly has the most intelligent audiences members I have ever met so I certainly understand what Bryan is saying. I just can’t wait to hear from you all about your experience with The Christians. I will be particularly interested to speak with those of you who have seen our version of Antigone. The Christians absolutely stands on its own as a brilliant piece of dramatic literature, but the theatre nerd in me relishes the opportunity to consider this piece in relation to some of our other work. I really look forward to seeing you there and learning from everything that you observe.
~Matt Cahoon

The Christians by Lucan Hnath runs April 27 through May 5, 2018. More info here.

1 comment:

  1. What makes a note right or wrong is the next note - Miles Davis