Extant Arts Company is mounting an ambitious pairing of Sophocles's Antigone with a new play by Greg Taubman that parallels the classic Greek tragedy's story and themes. Directed by Taubman, both feature a ruler who makes a fateful decision that goes against perceived divine will, with fatal consequences for his family.
Both Antigone and Taubman's Progeny delve deeply into morality. In the former, Oedipus's daughter Antigone (the impressive Pëtra Denison) defies a sacrilegious order by King Creon of Thebes (Russell Jordan) that her traitorous brother Polynices not be mourned or honorably buried. In Progeny, set in modern times, a Virginia legislator softens his strict anti-abortion position after winning a close gubernatorial election partly on the strength of his uncompromising pro-life stance.
In the new play as in Antigone, two sisters' fates are tied to the ruler's policies. The governor (Tony Neil) has been raising his teenaged nieces since their mother's suicide. Anne (Quinn Warren in a powerful performance) is a hyper-religious pro-lifer who takes drastic action to try to reverse the governor's decisions to support exceptions for rape, incest, and the life of the mother, and (in a twist ripped from recent headlines) to veto a bill requiring women to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound before having an abortion. But is there a hidden personal motivation behind his changed stance?
While the play is structured a bit like a Greek tragedy, with a talky, hyperactive press corps functioning like a Chorus, and while it certainly is a tragedy, a commentariat does not a Greek play make. In the plays of Sophocles and Euripides and their compatriots, it was standard for important themes to be mused upon at length by more-or-less passive choruses and for crucial events to be reported on by messengers rather than shown. Even today we know to expect that. But in a modern play, too much telling instead of showing grows wearisome. Progeny's florid speeches, so unrealistic coming from a teenager (not to mention from a modern politician!), though just as artificial, work well once we've grown accustomed to that intonation, and some of the confrontation scenes between uncle and niece are impressively crafted and handled – but that's because we don't demand naturalism from modern drama.