Ian Finley Made Burning Coal’s STC Sr.’s Antigone Feel Timely and Current

Burning Coal Theatre Company STC Sr. performed on July 29th and 30th in Murphey School Auditorium
Burning Coal Theatre Company STC Sr. performed on July 29th and 30th in Murphey School Auditorium
Burning Coal Theatre Company STC Sr. performed on July 29th and 30th in Murphey School Auditorium
Burning Coal Theatre Company STC Sr. performed on July 29th and 30th in Murphey School Auditorium

It’s great to see solid young talent on stage! It’s especially nice when they’re doing an exceptional job with a first-rate script. The talent is this year’s graduates of Burning Coal Theatre’s Summer Theatre Conservatory (STC Sr). The script is Ian Finley’s adaptation of Sophocles’ Antigone.

Finley’s adaptation of Antigone begins with a fresh-faced Chorus of teenaged actors delivering an opening salvo of truth — speaking in stereophonic sound from widely spaced seats within the audience. The effect is oddly musical and hypnotic, creating a kinetic tension that makes the beginning of this hour-long play feel as though we are embarking on a fever dream.

This adaptation is a modern retelling of the story of Antigone, the daughter of ancient Athens’ King Oedipus and Queen Jocosta, who also happens to be her grandmother (long story!). It marries the ancient and the modern worlds seamlessly, while maintaining respect for each world by keeping the language mostly classical yet current enough for a modern audience.

The entire cast of student actors does a great job of infusing the material (written some 2,500 years ago) with modern youth and vigor, but it is The Chorus that steals the show. Lara Clinkscales, Magdalen Crist, Shawn Hooker, and Charlie Zimmer are, at one point, wise messengers, later a group of reporters, then gossipy teenagers and, at times, the mob voices of social media — they know all, because they see all with the whole world unfolding right in front of them on their cell-phone screens.

At times, The Chorus wear masks (as an homage to the choric tradition); at other times, they do not. Their voices, at appropriate times, echo each other, respond to each other antiphonally, finish each other’s sentences, or unite in a cacophony from which we can only discern random key words. At other times, they blend in a well-rehearsed unison.

Director Mary Guiteras makes bold choices in her use of the space. At key points, The Chorus appears on the upper level of the Murphey School Auditorium, above the audience. At other times, The Chorus shares the main area of the stage with the principals, either occupying their own space or moving fluidly and rhythmically throughout the space as they speak. And there is a well-chosen point at which Creon appears on the upper level. It is worth noting that Guiteras makes sure that, while there is never any gratuitous movement, we are never bored by a completely static, motionless stage picture.

Burning Coal Theatre Company STC Sr. performed on July 29th and 30th in Murphey School Auditorium
Burning Coal Theatre Company STC Sr. performed on July 29th and 30th in Murphey School Auditorium

For those unfamiliar with the story, Antigone’s brothers have both died while fighting on opposite sides of a civil war. One has been given a hero’s funeral; but the body of the other one (Polynices) has been left in the street to rot. According to the religion of the ancient Greeks, that damns Polynices’ spirit to walk the earth alone for eternity.

Antigone, who has no illusions about the virtue of either of her brothers, understands that they were both evil men. She nevertheless wants to do what she feels is right — she intends to bury Polynices, even at the risk of being put to death for defying a royal edict, an edict put in place by her Aunt Creon, the ruler who is re-imagined as a woman in this adaptation.

The Department of Picky-Picky insists that we pause for a moment here and point out a shortcoming in the programs for this production: the major roles were double-cast, and we were not informed which actors were playing Antigone (Jaime Oesterling or Susanna Skaggs), Ismene (Sophie Dubois or Cassidy McCardle), Haemon (Ethan Adcox or Colin Freund), and Creon (Sammy Griffin or Gloria Hope) during the performance that we attended on Friday night.

That said: Friday night’s Creon showed the necessary intense, rigid commitment to preserving the status quo while still revealing a human side when she offers Antigone a “loop-hole.”

Friday night’s Ismene and Haemon were visibly torn between alternative courses of action at crucial points in the play. By the way: we are not sure if it was the costume, the posture, the delivery of lines or, perhaps, a combination of the three; but there was something about this Haemon that made him a perfect fit in this world of Antigone.

Friday night’s Antigone brought a maturity to the role that contrasted nicely with her cherubic face. When she has her moment of doubt, we found ourselves almost wishing that she would forget this nonsense of adhering to her principles and would run away with her boyfriend, perhaps going to a liberal-arts college far away or joining the Peace Corps or doing whatever else that sweet, earnest kids do.

But this play is a tragedy, and as The Chorus tells us in an a scene staged in a compelling “machine-like” rhythm, “That is the nature of Tragedy — There is no hope — So you can be brave — You can shout and scream the truth.”

And this is the crux of this adaptation; it is a message to the young, telling them that just because you don’t have all the right answers, it doesn’t mean that you don’t know what is truly right. And even if you think that nothing will ever change, it is still important to be brave and to scream the truth.

Antigone tells us, “I buried my brother. I posted the pictures. It is amazing what you can say in 140 characters!” It is amazing indeed!

Ian Finley has managed to take an ancient work and make it feel as timely and current as the evening news, and he has gifted the community with it. And Burning Coal Theatre’s STC Sr. has gifted the community with a group of fine young actors. We look forward to more of their work and to next year’s production by STC Sr.

ANTIGONE (Burning Coal Theatre Company STC Sr., July 29 and 30 in the Murphey School Auditorium in Raleigh, NC).

SHOW: http://burningcoal.org/stc-sr/.

PRESENTER: http://www.burningcoal.org/, https://www.facebook.com/Burning.Coal.Theatre, and https://twitter.com/burningcoaltc.

VENUE: http://burningcoal.org/murphey-school-auditorium/.


Antigone (c. 441 BC tragedy): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antigone_%28Sophocles_play%29 (Wikipedia).

Sophocles, a.k.a. Sophokles (Greek tragedian, c. 496-c.406 BC): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sophocles (Wikipedia).

Ian L. Finley (Raleigh, NC playwright): https://www.facebook.com/ian.l.finley (Facebook page).

Mary Guiteras (New Orleans, LA director): https://www.facebook.com/mary.guiteras (Facebook page).



Nicole Noel is a former U.S. Army journalist-turned-Technical Knowledge Manger, with a love for the arts. At age seven, she wrote her first story on the wall of her basement after being told the family might have to move: “There once was a girl named Nicole who had a dog named Rat and they lived in this house.” She liked the way that you could capture a moment in a sentence, and still does. These days Nicole lives with her daughter, and a dog named Buffy, in a house in Fuquay-Varina. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.

1 comment

  1. Hello, this is Ralph Jones here! Fantastic article. I just wanted to let you know that the Friday night named characters were played by Jaime Oesterling, Sammy Griffin, Colin Freund, and Cassidy McCardle, if you want to include that here. We’ll keep in mind the possible confusion on the programs for double casts in the future. We’re glad you enjoyed the show and Ian’s wonderful script!

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