It’s been a very hot day and a day long struggle with the steps. Alcohol is taking its toll. The older Latino man, stripped to the waist, barefoot, sitting and drinking from an open rum bottle, his eyes, liquid, beyond bloodshot to almost bleeding, mournful tears pouring down. I tell him he can’t sit there drinking. He points awkwardly to the two sisters sitting further down. Y ellas, alla…porque? Because they are not drinking, I say.
Later, the main door is occupied by the man who reminds me of the evil twin of the man who used to be featured on the Uncle Ben’s rice box. Also stripped to the waist and drunk. I am relieved when Dion arrives for his preshow set up work and helps me move people along.
Tonight will be my last chance to see Antigona before leaving for Ireland tomorrow. There are fans and iced down water to keep people cool in the heat. Since review after review has been positive, crowds have been building nightly. Sold out every night. But sadly, this one week extension will be it. Professional commitments and family concerns of cast members demand that much of the cast will be returning to Spain. Most disappointed is Soledad who is discovering more of Antigona every performance. She more and more is Antigona. She and Martin had wanted an extended run, especially because so many neighbors who want to see the show won’t return to the city until after Labor Day. Saturday the 15th will be the final performance.
Something magical happens tonight. Even though I have seen the show countless times, from the scenes at the Joyce theatre to preview performances at the University of Pennsylvania to the showcase performances at the Pearl to now the fully staged production here at West-Park, it continues to grow, evolve, become, not just Soledad, but the entire cast.
And tonight, it’s all there. No more awkward transitions, it’s almost seamless from scene to scene with an organic and emotional logic. No more sense of flawed wonder. The drama and emotion build and build. Every time you think Soledad has reached her peak, she comes back higher and deeper. Until finally, hair hanging sweat soaked, eyes burning with intensity, defiant and vulnerable, she stares down life itself fiercely embracing its beauty and declaring her agency in the face of the abyss. She, not Creon, not fate, is in control of her destiny.
And it is the small details I notice, the open smile as she and Haemon share one last dance of love. As if in that moment, this is enough to redeem. And at the performance’s conclusion, she comes to the center of the stage and gently lifts the chastened, broken Creon, sharing a look of compassion. (My brother the English teacher maintains Creon is the tragic center of the play.) In that one simple gesture, a suggestion of possible redemption. And tonight at that moment, I am brought to tears. My breath taken away. And speechless. One of those moments where for just a moment, you see truth. Which is the only purpose of art.
I was asked by someone if I could write an essay on the Christian meaning, the Gospel interpretation of Antigona. I said No. In theology, we deal in the Word. Our scripture is a word. Jesus is a living word. Those words are their own expression. Art exists not to serve those words, not to be a handmaid, as my friend says, not to illustrate like a children’s Bible. Art is its own word, seeking to reveal truth. This production of Antigona explores a host of issues, social-political, spiritual, emotional, but ultimately it is life itself, and the truth revealed in the living of that life that is at stake. And in that process, the word that is artistic expression is in dialogue with not in service to our words.
That is why this production of Antigona with its intelligence, its competence, its passion and transcendence belongs in a sanctuary. Our sanctuary.
I will visit with my friends. Try to say this. And I will visit Soledad and tell her it is dificil para entender que es possible a ir arriba y arriba….impossible as it seems, she has gone higher and higher.
And for this, I am thankful.
Tomorrow I will visit with Rudy, seeking a way to bring his work back to West-Park. And then off to Ireland.