An Arab version of the classical Greek play, Antigone, was recently brought to life onstage by a cast of students of Georgetown University in Qatar (GU-Q) to an audience of 150 students, staff, faculty, and family. The play, which was performed at the university’s campus auditorium, was the first performance of GU-Q’s recently launched school club, the Theater Group.
The play and the theater group were entirely inspired and developed by Georgetown students, with the support of university faculty and staff who oversaw the logistics of the group’s first production. Layanne Malluhi, a GU-Q Culture and Politics sophomore, started working on modifying the Bertolt Brecht version of the classical script written by the Greek playwright Sophocles to make it more relevant to the Middle East, in January of this year. When the script was finalized, open auditions were held on campus with more than 20 students auditioning for a total of 13 parts. An email campaign was launched to encourage more male students to audition, since the female students far outnumbered them. In the end, one male role was rewritten for a female actor. Qatari student Hessa Al Noaimi was cast in the title role of Antigone, and Waleed Hachicho played King Creon, Antigone’s uncle and the ruler of Thebes, where the mythical story is set.
“Five students auditioned for the part of Antigone, and I was called in for a second audition before I got the part,” said Hessa, adding “This was my first experience acting in a play. I have always wanted to do theater, and when I learned Antigone was the play, I researched the story, and fell in love with it.”
Hessa, who cites her own father’s background in theater as an inspiration, was particularly impressed by the relevance of the story’s message to a modern audience despite the fact that Antigone was written thousands of years ago. “My character makes references to wealth, to overspending, and to losing one’s morals in a modern world – and for me, these are the challenges of our Arab world, where we are now trying to focus on meaning and productivity, not just consumption.”
The Culture and Politics major also cites the play’s commentary on the changing role of women as relevant to a modern audience, saying “In one of Antigone’s courtroom scene monologues, my character cites her status as an unmarried woman as a personal shame, and I could feel that many people in the audience could relate to why she would feel that way.”
Saaliha Khan, a Student Development Officer at GU-Q, provided dedicated support and mentoring for the fledgling theater group, ensuring that everything went smoothly throughout the process, from script development to auditions up to the day of the actual performance. Georgetown’s dean, Dr. Gerd Nonneman, praised both the staff and students involved in the production, saying: “The curriculum is quite demanding on students, so I am very proud to see these students put on a professional theatrical performance of this literary classic while meeting all of their academic requirements. Theater has long been a vital cultural platform for the discussion of major ideas and important themes in the study of human civilization, and with our students’ adaptation of Antigone for an Arab environment, these young actors opened many avenues for discussion of the important issues they’ve encountered in their lives, as well as their communities. At GU-Q, our students learn both inside and outside of the classroom, whether through service trips to other countries, or through clubs and organizations right here in Doha, and this theater group is a wonderful example of relating a classic to the present day and Arab context.”
The storyline of the play focuses on the social, legal, and spiritual dynamics of a war-torn dynasty in Thebes, with the daughter of Oedipus, Antigone, clashing with her uncle, King Creon, who punishes her actions before ultimately forgiving her. Some central themes of the play include Antigone’s determination and commitment to justice, the conflict between divine and secular law, and the role of women in society. The Theater Group only performed the play once, but may consider follow up performances in the future.