Mac Wellman’s postmodern version of Sophocles’ Antigone only loosely relates to the original Greek play. It does, however, contain scraps and bits that some might recognize as bits of Antigone — lines cribbed here and there, and a part at the end in which the Three Fates recite a part of the play in ancient Greek, and Sophocles, thinking it brilliant, says “Hey, I gotta write that down!” But otherwise, Wellman merely uses the original play as a scaffold on which to build an entirely different animal. Erin Merritt, who staged the new Woman’s Will production of Wellman’s play, described it as “Antigone in Wonderland.” The idea, she said, is that you don’t see a tidy plot that comes to some kind of neat resolution and offers a message you can carry home. Really, Wellman’s more interested in layering, deconstructing, and using language to do things that language was never intended to do — “like skirt issues or change the subject,” Merritt explained. In other words, said the director, this adaptation has an Alice in Wonderland-style jumble of logic and illogic: “You don’t have to be concerned that at one moment she’s talking to a queen who’s playing croquet with a flamingo.”
But despite its twists and turns, the Wellman version still has philosophical mooring. Centering on the Three Fates, three women from Greek mythology who spin, measure, and cut the thread of every person’s life, this Antigone spin-off — elaborately titled Antigone (as played by the Three Fates, also the Three Facts, on their way to becoming the Three Graces) — largely concerns itself with the ancient conflict of pre-destination versus free will. The Fates, reimagined as three schoolgirls playing in an attic, are spinning and cutting the story of Antigone, planning to impart it to humans. But they find the story so wrenching and affecting that, in the course of preparing it, they jump out of their own skin. By the end of the play, the Three Fates have recast themselves as the Three Graces, who are all about humanity and creativity. There’s actually a loose thread tying back to the original play, Merritt assured, because even though Antigone’s family is cursed and everyone dies in some horrible way, the main character does take a step toward free will (knowing that she’s just gonna die anyway). Fans of Hegel and Kierkegaard may have a great “aha” moment.
Woman’s Will’s production of Wellman’s Antigone is a “rave” adaptation of the Wonderland version, replete with cat’s cradle images, Japanese butoh dancing (meant to symbolize destruction), clowning, and scraps of plot that don’t make a ton of sense until you think about them, like, deeply. People coming to see a rote version of Sophocles’ Antigone will be disappointed, Merritt said. But fans of The X-Files will love this show.
Antigone (as played by the Three Fates, also the Three Facts, on their way to becoming the Three Graces) opens Friday, October 19 and runs Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays through November 11 at the Temescal Arts Center. All shows start at 8 p.m. and cost $15-$25. Call 510-420-0813 or visit WomansWill.org for information.