Play Honors Heaney

As both a memorial to the late Seamus Heaney and a celebration of the famous Irish poet’s work, the Department of Theater and Dance and the Mermaid Players presented The Burial at Thebes between April 11 and 15 in Mathers Theatre.

The play is a re-telling of Sophocles’ ancient Greek play Antigone, which focuses on the legendary actions of Creon (Samuel Neagley ’14), who represents the traditional and rigid values of the state, and Antigone (Melissa Sturges ’17), who represents religious law and the power of personal sacrifice. The conflict of the play revolves around Antigone’s denial of Creon’s edict to ignore the proper rights burial of her brother, who died fighting against Thebes.

Heaney chose to enhance the political message of Sophocles’ original version of Antigone in his translation. In the poet’s 2004 edition of the text, Heaney wrote that he drew parallels between Creon’s patriotism and the rabid anti-terrorism that surrounded the post-9/11 Bush administration.

“‘I’ll flush ‘em out,’” said Sturges in her portrayal of Antigone, echoing her enemy King Creon and the political rhetoric of the Bush administration. “‘Whoever isn’t for us is against us in this case.’”

The masks and outfits of the actors further enhanced the patriotic fervor of Heaney’s play. Though some characters wore classical Greek togas and tunics, others were outfitted in contemporary military uniforms. Soldiers and guards wore modern face paint and berets, and each ended their speeches with salutes.

Those in attendance enjoyed artistic touches that director Professor of Theatre and Dance Todd Wronski chose to include.

“The costuming and staging of Burial at Thebes was beautiful and insightful,” said Catheryn Broady ’16. “I loved the symbolism that they created by using masks.”

As part of the memorial to the late Heaney, Professor of English Carol Ann Johnson wrote a foreword to the performance’s playbill.

“Heaney’s rendering of these myths leaves us situated on the threshold where poetry can propose an alternative outcome, a ‘returning of the world itself,” wrote Johnson, a close friend and mentee of Heaney. “At Dickinson this year, we have both summoned and, sadly, released our dear friend Seamus Heaney.”