“Thebes” a gritty display of students’ excellence in theater

"The Burial at Thebes," the School of the Arts' first mainstage production to be completely designed, run and directed by students, brings a gritty Greek tragedy to Geneseo.

The play is writer Seamus Heaney's modern and visceral translation of Sophocles' Greek play, "Antigone." In the aftermath of Oedipus' incestuous demise, the king's daughters Ismene and Antigone are left to pull their lives back together as Creon ascends to the throne.

When Creon sets the body of Antigone's brother Polynices outside the city to rot and threatens the death penalty for anyone who tries to bury him, Antigone goes on a war path to rescue one last bit of honor for her broken family. Ignoring her sister's attempts to dissuade her, Antigone goes against Creon's orders and tries to give her brother's body a proper burial. Creon sentences her to death, bringing upon himself a downward spiral of tyranny and ruin.

Though the play itself is considerably more antiquated than those typically performed at Geneseo, the show's director, junior Lauren Scheibly, believes that its age only adds to its poignancy. "The thing about Greek theater is that it's lasted so long because it's true," she said. "You can find the roots of every play in here."

The actors do an excellent job of bringing such ancient characters to life. As Scheibly put it, "These are really people that feel and hurt and anger each other just as much as you and I do in real life."

Junior Elizabeth Sackett plays the role of Antigone feverishly and passionately. Her every movement embodies an explosive sense of ferocity mixed with tragic vulnerability and even fear. Her verbal sparring with senior Paul Nardone as Creon is violent and powerful, and the intense physicality of both actors creates tension even in stretches of silence.

Nardone is dynamic and absorbing as Creon, a king who loses everything because of his own stubborn arrogance. As the play progresses, he smoothly transitions first from a cold dictator to a concerned father and finally to a tragic and surprisingly sympathetic figure.

The scene between Creon and his son Haemon, played by sophomore Sam White, is such a painfully evocative display of father-son tension that it's difficult to watch but impossible to look away from.

Scene length is skillfully handled, and the dynamic movement of the actors through the multi-leveled set creates a constantly shifting visual interest.

The SOTA gave the entirely student-run production a mainstage budget and resources for the first time in its history, allowing students pursuing a career in theater to operate on an independent, professional level. While they did receive some guidance from faculty members, the students did all of their own creative and interpretive work.

"In the beginning we were still kind of wide-eyed," Scheibly said, adding that by the end of the production the company worked like "a well-oiled machine."

"When they're designing, they're not students, they're very professional," Scheibly said. "They all take this very seriously."

The students' professionalism is evident in every detail of the play. The set, designed by senior Catherine Martini, is incredible, featuring a set of bombed-out war towers framing a flight of beautifully painted stairs. Slabs of real slate are placed around the stage, adding a gritty and realistic feel to the set.

The lighting provides a stunning complement to the set that echoes the changing atmospheres and moods of the plot. When freshman Kimberly Olsen takes the stage as Tiresias, a low white light subtly makes her the sole point of attention and complements her eerie, mesmerizing performance.

If "The Burial at Thebes" is any indication, the SOTA can feel safe entrusting its talented students with even larger productions in the future. Performances, held in the Alice Austin Theater of Brodie Hall, are March 2-6 at 8 p.m. and March 7 at 2 p.m. Tickets are on sale at the Brodie Box Office.