FORBES REVIEW: She Wrote a Daring and New Retelling of the Myth of Antigone with Kissing The Floor
By Jeryl Brunner
In Sophocles’ tragic play Antigone, the title character will do anything to ensure that her late brother, Polyneices, gets a proper burial. Even though Polyneices is a power-hungry traitor who commits murder and wages war on his homeland, Antigone will defy the king and even risk her own death for her brother.
“I will bury him myself,” says Antigone. “And even if I die in the act, that death will be a glory. I will lie with the one I love and loved by him—an outrage sacred to the gods!” The play, which dates back to 441 BC, asks what we owe those who are part of our family, even if they are dangerous?
Ellen McLaughlin’s new play Kissing The Floor offers a radical retelling of the Antigone myth. Initially a commission from Berkeley Rep, McLaughlin was asked if she would write a new version of Antigone. The piece centers on a family of troubled siblings and their very damaged and troubled legacy.
Set during the depression, one of the sisters, Annie, (Christina Bennett Lind), will do nearly anything for her brother, Paul, (Leon Ingulsrud). Meanwhile, their sister, Izzy, (Akyiaa Wilson), who desperately wants to help her sister, and brother Eddie (also played by Leon Ingulsrud), are spectators to their fraught history.
McLaughlin, who has always been drawn to the myth of Antigone, first struggled to find a way to adapt it. “I couldn’t find my own way in for the longest time. It seemed that everything I could come up with had already been done before by someone else,” she says. “I wanted to find the version that I could make my own.”
But then an image came to her. She pictured a woman in a 1930s-era dress lying on the floor knocking in morse code. “I thought, hmmm, that looks like something unique to me,” says the writer and actress who originated the role of the Angel in Angels in America and has appeared in countless productions of Tony Kushner’s play from its earliest workshops through its Broadway run. “And that led to an idea for a tortured relationship between two living siblings.”
She thought of Polynices, “by anyone’s standards, a despicable traitor,” says McLaughlin. “He was a criminal that criminals would despise, and that brought me to Paul.” Then here was his loving sister, Annie. “She was the only person in the world who would act for him, much less lay down her life for him,” says McLaughlin. “And it made sense that Annie would not only be his sister but his first victim. And then the play wanted to write itself.”
Presented by One Year Lease Theater Company and directed by Ianthe Demos, with movement direction by Natalie Lomonte, Kissing The Floor is currently playing off Broadway at Theatre Row in New York City. The cast also features McLaughlin’s husband, Grammy and Obie Award winner Rinde Eckert.
A cutting edge theater company, One Year Lease (OYL) is devoted to honoring diverse voices and building community through theater. Founded in 2001, their productions seek to question the past while and re-imagining the future. “They are such a gutsy, smart, passionate, idiosyncratic, open-minded, process-oriented company—all of which is set as an aesthetic by Ianthe Demos, the artistic director, and happily, the director of my play,” says McLaughlin. “I was deeply impressed by them all when I spent the summer teaching in their program in Greece with them.”
So how does Kissing The Floor address the age-old question about the debt we owe to those who are part of our family, even if they are dangerous or hurt us?
“Well, that’s the big unanswerable question that the play, like Sophocles, addresses,” says McLaughlin. “If Sophocles poses it and never answers it—as is the nature of these Greek plays—I’m certainly not going to try. There is no definitive right answer. That’s the problem.”
Source: Forbes Magazine