We just finished a great week of play performances and discussions with Theatre Kapow, as we used Sophocles's play, Antigone, to introduce the work of the course in presenting some of the greatest ideas of human culture about the best conversatio, or way of life. The performances were electrifying and every night we had enlightening discussions with the small group of students who stayed afterwards to talk with the actors and director. (You can catch up with some of the highlights of our discussions on our facebook feed: https://www.facebook.com/ConversatioSAC ) And our seminars were full of lively discussions of the meaning of the staging and symbolism in the play, as well as its relevance to current events and issues concerning the relation of the community and divine.
The Antigone is about even more that the obvious conflict between divine law and human law, and that came out in the tKAPOW performaces. It is about the things in our human condition that we cannot bear to see, the invisible constraints that makes us vulnerable creatures bound to earth, limited by fate, destined for death, and ways in which a stable social system requires making these strings that tie us to earth invisible. One of the most common question the actors got was why they performed barefoot, and at least one of the answers was that it reminded them, and us, of something we try hard to forget: we are tied to earth and made vulnerable by those ties.
One of the new features of this year's performance provided the perfect metaphor for the role that the play filled in our introduction to the course. The part of boy who leads the blind prophet-seer Tiresias was played by a puppet this year. The puppet was custom made in Prague for the part and carved as a Greek boy at just the right height to guide the actor who plays Tiresias (Mark Morrison) in his wanderings. Tiresias, whose second sight predicts the down fall of Creon, is himself blind and must be guided by an ignorant, innocent boy, with the irony of this being obvious. He recounts with exquisite clarity, and in Seamus Heaney's most beautiful poetry, the gore and horror of the failed sacrifice that reveals Creon's error. But in a brilliant twist, in this production, the boy who leads the blind is himself on strings and is really being led by Tiresias, with his other eye fixed on the eternal. And, of course, we are the boy, the puppet, unaware of the invisible strings of fate and earth that draw us along as we pretend to see our destinies.
The Antigone is intended to introduce the course by getting us to see the inherent problem with the human condition, the problems from which the ways of life, or conversationes, we study are intended to set us free. Our student have lived comfortable lives designed to shelter them from the harsh realities that the Antigone lays before them, so it is a good reminder and preparation. Next we will learn about Plato's allegory of the cave, about a group of people unaware of the invisible strings that bind them to an unreal world, and, then, the liberal arts, the habits and disciplines of a free person, the keys to a conversatio that can cut the invisible strings that bind us in ways we only dimly discern.