POST: 'Burial at Thebes' - follow the law or the moral option?


What'd I experience?

From the start I was highly excited to see this show. Greek mythology is one of my favorite things, and I have always wanted to see one of these classic plays performed. I've read Burial at Thebes once before, so I figured seeing it performed would be amazing. I mean, yeah, it's not a particularly happy play, but that's the way it is with most old and Greek things.

The show was held in the Irish Repertory Theatre, and at first I passed right by it because I thought it was some fancy art store. After I looped back around and went in, it was actually a really cool looking place. Also I'm going to admit this early on so I don't feel so bad later on - but since it was being held at the Irish Repertory Theatre, I expected/hoped everyone to have thick Irish accents. I know, kind of a dumb wish, but there were a lot of Irish performers in the cast so I was pleased at that. They didn't quite have that heavy accent, but if you listened really close you could kind of hear it.

Anyway, the show opened as I had remembered, with Antigone (daughter of Oedipus, by the way, the one that killed his dad and did that weird stuff with his mom) and her sister Ismene discussing the burial of their brother Etocles, and the restriction on burying their other brother Polynices. Fortunately (or unfortunately because it kind of spoiled a bit of the intrigue), I had the background knowledge of what was going on so I wasn't confused on why there was a restriction on the burial and why they were both dead in the first place.

Basically, the two brothers fought on opposite sides of a war, with Etocles fighting on the side of Thebes and Polynices on the other guy's side ( I can't remember :D ), and ended up killing each other. Creon, the new king of Thebes who just so happens to be their uncle, hails Etocles as a hero and gives him an honorable burial while refusing to allow the burial of Polynices and sees him as a traitor. This all boils on an almost Star Wars level of family problems

What follows is the whole argument and focus of this play, that I really like, which is whether Antigone should follow the law and leave her brother's body or to go by the Divine Law and give her brother the burial he deserves.

This doesn't have to be viewed in a religious aspect necessarily, but simply as a moral aspect. Should one follow the rules and laws that are set for them, even if they may be unjust or morally uncool, or should they follow what they know is the right thing to do even if it means breaking those rules?

It's something I think about a lot in life, and I feel like it's something that is still relevant despite this show being literally thousands of years old. Just look at something like the Patriot Act. Laws were set in place in order to try and protect us by attempting to weed out terrorists and other criminals by placing increased surveillance on us citizens. This is (supposedly) an effective way to keep us safe, but at the same time we give up a lot of privacy while doing so. All the while this is causing more fear and even distrust of the government from it's citizens. So, the important question is, is the extra security justified even though it morally oversteps it's boundaries and even provokes fear from the people it's meant to protect?  Should we have such a priority on laws and protection and "justice" - or should we focus more on the morally correct thing to do?  It's not an easy subject, because morality itself isn't that black and white, and can easily fall in many different shades of gray.

Eventually though, Antigone makes her decision and chooses to bury Polynices despite Creon's demands, and is punished by being sealed in a tomb to die. This is a pretty harsh punishment, seeing how Antigone was engaged to Creon's son Haemon, who I guess is also her cousin. Weird. And of course, as with most plays that take place in a tomb at some point, Antigone kills herself, followed by Haemon and his mother, Creon's wife. This leaves Creon all alone and riddled with regret for the rest of his life.

This pretty much sums up what I was talking about before. Both sides, both the lawful and the moral, each were effected by the choices that were made, with no side clearly coming out on top. Antigone chose to go with the moral decision, and as a result was punished and was ultimately killed by the lawful side, but the lawful side (Creon) ended up losing all that he loved and is left alone and miserable. The way I see it, sometimes you just have to leave it up to both sides to naturally balance themselves out, no matter how dire the consequences may be.

One last quick thing, I thought the set and costumes were awesome, specifically Creon. The weird ropey things in the background gave it this kind of woven feel, like all of their fates are somehow woven and connected. Or that it was a story that was unwinding and unraveling in front of us. Or it could have been some rope. I don't know, I thought it was cool.


Want to see it?

$25 Student Rush

Burial at Thebes
Irish Repertory Theatre
@DR2 Theatre
thru Mar. 6