What lies behind the masks in ‘Antigone’

Broom Street actress plays against character
What lies behind the masks in ‘Antigone’
Photo by Christopher Wolter
Masks play an important role in Broom Street Theater's production of "Antigone."

If you love your Greek mythology–or at least your Sophocles–you probably remember the story: New Theban King Creon tells Antigone she can’t bury her brother, a revolutionary who took up arms against the state when his bro refused to honor their agreement to alternate years in power. Antigone defies the order and does it anyway. A lot of people argue and end up dead, including our heroine, who dies a martyr for placing the laws of the gods over the laws of the state.

Well, that’s one version of the story, anyway. Broom Street Theater’s upcoming production of “Antigone” (opening tonight, Friday, Jan. 19) aims to tell a different one. They’re staging the world premiere of a translation by Slavoj Zizek, a Slovenian deep thinker/graduate professor who’s been dubbed “the most dangerous philosopher in the West.” In Zizek’s version, Antigone’s not necessarily the noble hero, Creon’s not necessarily a heartless bureaucrat, and the ending? To riff on John Lennon, you said you wanted a revolution.

Stacey Garbarski, the actor who’ll be playing Antigone, didn’t have much trouble embracing Zizek’s murkier take on the character.

“I don’t like Antigone. I actually hate her,” says Garbarski, who interestingly, began her theater career in a college production of the play–as a member of the chorus, not in the lead role. “She’s inconsiderate of folks around her, and she makes decisions without taking their feelings into account. I think that’s selfish. She’s a fool who loves death. She’s not a martyr.”

Having a sharply different worldview than the character she’s playing is just another challenge for Garbarski, who’s been having several moments of late on the local theater scene. Her energetic turn in “Die, Mommie, Die!” and “Rhinoceros” buoyed both productions. In “Antigone,” she’s looking forward to the additional challenge of having to play against characters who are all wearing masks that shield their true emotions, another design flourish that sets this production apart.

“It’s really hard to act off a mask,” she says, “But I love what it does, When you take away facial expressions, you use your body in different ways. Plus, the play raises interesting questions about the masks–what purpose does the mask serve? Who can wear it?”

In another interesting twist, the cast is largely female, meaning the part of Creon is being played by a woman (Jamie England, to be specific). Although the translation preserves the original gender pronouns, the casting shifts the traditional power dynamics.

“Jamie’s exactly the type of strong person needed to play a role like this,” says Garbarski. “We have very similar energies, and it’s going to be a blast playing off her.”

“Antigone” runs Through Sunday, Jan. 27. For ticket reservation information, click here.

Aaron R. Conklin writes his award-winning coverage of the Madison-area theater scene for madisonmagazine.com.