Notes on Antígona

Diana Taylor

In the 19th century, Mathew Bennett wrote that Antigone was ‘dead’: there was no further need to stage the play now that barbaric political practices were over. But, as modern theatre practitioners have insisted, criminal politics are not over, and the plight of Antigone illuminates the continuing struggle to exert individual agency in the face of unethical political demands. European playwright, such as Anouilh, reworked the play to address the role of the French resistance in the face of Nazi occupation. Griselda Gambaro, Argentina’s most important playwright, wrote Antígona Furiosa at the height of Argentina’s “Dirty War.” This one-woman Antigona (2000), presented by Peru’s internationally acclaimed collective theatre group, Grupo Cultural Yuyachkani, yet again recasts the struggle. Spectators readily follow the well-known story as Teresa Ralli acts out the various figures—Antigone, Ismene, Creon, Hermion, Tiresias, Haemon, and the messenger—using only a chair as a prop on the otherwise empty stage. Her precise and eloquent movements transform her outfit, a simple tunic over a pant and bodice, into numerous costumes. With a clap of her hands she conjures up the various characters, pulling them out of the classical archive to incarnate Peru’s current woes. Conceived in the late 1990s, seven years after the end of a decade of violent civil conflict, Yuyachkani does not invoke Antigone primarily to tell of a people divided against itself. As Teresa Ralli and director Miguel Rubio tell it, this too would have been their interpretation of the play if they had developed it in the 1980s. In the late 1990s, the issues have changed. Now in Peru, as in other countries dealing with the long-term effects of violence, people struggle to come to terms with their own strategies to survive in a dehumanizing environment. Ismene, the sister who failed to act in defense of Antigona and her brother, becomes the narrator. She re-enacts the story, not as an outsider, looking back, but as a reluctant witness who blinded herself through fear. “This is my own story,” she says, as she belatedly assumes her role in the drama, apologizing to her sister and ritualistically burying her brother. She asks Antígona to “ask Polynices to forgive me for not performing this task at the proper time./ And tell him how great my punishment is/
to remember your act every day -- a torture/ and shame for me.” Through performance, Ismene will complete the actions she could not undertake the first time around. Antigona offers the hope to those witnesses and participants who were unable to respond heroically in the face of atrocity. Because the traumatic effects of criminal violence are never ‘over,’ individuals have the opportunity of accepting their responsibility, no matter how over-due. Teresa Ralli developed this version of Antígona through interviews with families of the “disappeared” in Peru. Yuyachkani asked Peruvian poet, José Watanabe, to write a text based on both on Sophocles’ original and on this contemporary understanding of the trauma. Yuyachkani was awarded Peru’s national honors for Human Rights in 1999 and works with Peru’s truth commission investigating crimes against humanity committed during the 1980s and early 1990s.