“Something like that?” Hunt asks, before walking back to try the whole thing again.
The two actors have been choreographing the fight between Williams’s character Creon and Hunt’s Haemon for several minutes now, experimenting with different variations of hits, trying to find realism and safety in simulated violence.
From an audience seat, director Susan McCain pipes in for Hunt to slap his leg when Williams swings — it’ll sound like a big hit but Hunt’s face will remain unassailed.
Full of visceral moments, both physical and emotional, the ancient Greek play tells a “powerful, passionate and heartbreaking story,” says Hunt.
Events are set in motion when the young, headstrong Antigone decides to bury her brother, the leader of a rebellion, against the orders of King Creon, who wants him left to the elements where he died in battle.
“The Greeks believed that if a person was not buried, his spirit would wander forever without a resting place,” said Sylvia Malone, a former JSU professor and longtime actress who portrays Antigone’s lifelong nurse.
Despite a death sentence if she’s caught, Creon’s punishment is too much for Antigone to abide.
Watching Antigone say goodbye to Haemon, her fiancé who also happens to be Creon’s son, knowing she expects it to be her last goodbye, is a scene audiences find particularly heartbreaking.
“It’s not a fairy tale,” Williams explains. “It’s really avant garde, dark and sinister.”
Once Antigone’s role in her brother’s burial is discovered, the real trials begin.
“I don’t think Haemon really realizes that he’s in the middle of it until later on,” said Hunt, a JSU senior. “His loyalty to his father and his fiancée, what he believes is right and wrong — everything he thought is right, he finds out is wrong.”
The play’s heavy themes resonate with the setting, which JSU professor and set designer Jennifer Ivey created to resemble an abandoned theater.
“I found images of ripped curtains, broken floorboards and pieces of scenery that were abandoned,” she said. Broken-down ramps lead the way up a small stage to where Creon’s throne sits. In the background is a pile — no, a cacophony — of chairs, and the normally black stage is painted to look like ancient floorboards, stretching out toward the audience.
“It makes the floor seem to recede more than it should, which makes the space more vast than it really is,” said Ivey. The result is a stage that’s brooding and foreboding, in keeping with the play’s tragic nature.
“Antigone” is intense and demanding, but invigorating and deeply relatable. Even though the original play is more than 2,000 years old, Malone says its themes are universal and its lesson still meaningful to modern audiences.
“The laws of the dignity of man are higher than laws that men make,” Malone says. “When men make laws that take away the dignity of people, then there’s conflict and there’s trouble.”
Benjamin Nunnally is a freelance writer in Jacksonville. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
IF YOU GO…
WHAT: JSU presents “Antigone”
WHEN: Nov. 14-17, Thursday through Saturday at 7 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m.
WHERE: Ernest Stone Center Theater, JSU campus
TICKETS: Adults $10, JSU personnel and senior citizens $8, students and military $5.
INFO: Call the box office at 256-782-5648