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Saturday May 18, 2024

The antithesis of rousing: Antigone – Eik Baaghi Shahzadi Ki Kahani

The motivations of the play – a Greek tragedy, repurposed by Jean Anouilh– translated to Urdu and directed by Khalid Ahmad are clear, but the production itself fails to impact.

By Amina Baig
September 21, 2022

Karachi: With every reverence due to the arts of theater and acting, and a healthy love for good writing, sometimes you can add the highest quality ingredients to your melting pot and come up with a complete crowd displeaser.

I could just be talking about myself, and the gentleman who had fallen fast asleep in the front row at the 48th minute of a conversation between Anti-gone and Creone on opening night for what is meant to be a rousing work of theater, but if you take us as the microcosm for this audience, the studied results are dismaying.

Khalid Ahmad is excellent at not just linguistic translations of classic works, he is a master at translating nuance and subtext from this language to that. When he directs, he masterfully draws out the vulnerability of every character through his actors. Antigone benefits in this regard: every character is delicately portrayed by mostly good actors.

A text like Antigone will also benefit from its relevance to every era. There will always be those claiming to work in favor of the general populace, those who suffer from that very favor, and those who decide to do what they feel is right regardless.

In this case, our rebel princess, Antigone, played by a very capable Maha Hasan, decides her brother Polynices deserves decent burial, while risking her own safety and wellbeing.

In the 47th minute of a dialogue between Anti-gone and Creone, the latter convincing his niece to adhere to the law, as there is beauty only in method, not madness, I imagined I was caught in a very bad dream, because no staged conversation should go on that long and looked away from the stage to wake myself up. It was then that the sleeping member of the audience caught my attention. Perhaps I was in his bad dream? Perhaps we aren’t living, merely incepting at an increasingly nightmarish pace? Who even knows.

What I do know is any audience in the year 2022 has very limited attention span. Yes, even your senior citizen mother, and her WhatsApp-forwarding sister. We’ve adapted to bite-sized content rapidly, as the Meta gods meant for us to, and we need you to make your point clearly, and very quickly.

While I wholeheartedly support classical theater and text, and once more point out that watching classical plays is a good way to acquaint yourself with classical text if reading isn’t your thing, you simply cannot do whole blocks of dialogue for more than 10 minutes, and that is being generous.

A lengthy, long-winded speech takes away from the positives of a production. For instance, you might think I disliked the entire skeleton of the play, and that is just not true. The actors in all major roles were superb – Maha Hasan and Raana Kazmi as sisters Antigone and Ismene, Khalid Ahmad as Creone, Samhan Ghazi as the Chorus, and Zarqa Naz as the sisters’ caretaker are polished and on point. The sets, costumes, and light design are among some of the best you have seen in any NAPA production. But the sheer tediousness of the script dampens any bright spark within the production.

What is meant to provoke the audience into thoughtful, spirited discourse and action simply makes them care a little less about everything except when they can exit the Zia Mohyeddin Theater.