U-M's modern-leaning production of "Antigone" explores grief in the pandemic age


Sam White, founder of Shakespere in Detroit, guest directed the University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theatre, and Dance’s recent production of Antigone (February 17-20). She felt the weight of the pandemic while conceiving of the staging and decided that rather than putting on a play written in 441 BCE as some sort of separate escapism from our current world, the two can interact and help one another.

The driving tragedy of the play, Antigone’s search for justice for her brother, is translated into our pandemic world of family members dying alone, funerals unable to happen, and a general lack of closure for many loved ones.

The third play in Sophocles' Theban trilogy begins with the death of Antigone's brothers who fought against one another in the Theban Civil War. King Creon decrees that one brother, Polynices, remain unburied as punishment for fighting against the throne. Antigone buries him anyway, and when Creon hears of this he declares he will kill whoever is responsible. A proudly defiant Antigone admits she was responsible, and the tragedy unspools from there.

The chorus brought modernity to this production through visionary choreography and more contemporary costumes. It highlighted the complexities of community throughout the ongoing tragedy and successfully demonstrated the quiet desire of many people to disagree with leadership and rule though unable to express themselves for fear of consequence.  

With outstanding performances by Antigone and Creon, and the support of the chorus and other actors, this production of Antigone not only honored the ancient play, but allowed its message to transcend through time in an unexpected place. 

Katy Trame is a student, poet, public library associate for Pulp, and music writer for The Michigan Daily.

➥ "Sam White renovates a Greek classic: a preview of 'Antigone'" [The Michigan Daily, Feb. 17, 2022]