INTERVIEW: ‘I Am Antigone’ offers contemporary take on classic tale

Nicole Ansari stars in the world premiere of I Am Antigone, which is part of Theater for the New City’s Dream Up Festival. Photo courtesy of Tim Dobrovolny.

Broadway and film actress Nicole Ansari stars in the world premiere of I Am Antigone, the contemporary adaptation of the classic play. This version comes from the minds of writer Saudamini Siegrist and director Myriam Cyr.

In the play, which runs through Sept. 16 at Theater for the New City’s Dream Up Festival in New York City, one woman makes a stand against political corruption. The classic tale by Sophocles follows the title character as she is condemned to die for performing burial rites for her beloved brother. Joining Ansari on stage are Shahrokh Moshkin Ghalam, Roshan Affolter, Sam Flahive, Peter Halpin, Jake Nameroff and Logan Pitt.

Recently, Hollywood Soapbox exchanged emails with Ansari about her new role. The actress has performed in Broadway’s Rock N’ Roll and La Mama’s Shakespeare’s Sister, in addition to many international theatrical projects. Her films include Steven Soderbergh’s Side Effects, Blumenthal and As Good as Dead.

Questions and answers have been slightly edited for style.

What attracted you to join the company of I Am Antigone?

The director, Myriam Cyr, who I had met and worked with only a year ago, called me up and asked me if I want to play Antigone. The words weren’t out of her mouth, and I said yes. Antigone always was high on my list of roles to play.

What do you feel the updated play says about 2017 and power in the 21st century?

I was positively surprised when I first read the play at how incredibly current the play is. Antigone says things to Creon that I would very much like to say to our president. Our Creon is even described as having small hands. Antigone has always been the iconic character per se to represent civil disobedience. In this play, she is more than just telling her story from HER perspective, the female perspective. All the known plays about the story have been written by men — Sophocles, [Bertolt] Brecht, [Jean Anouilh] — and Antigone ends up being the tragic heroine, victimized by the tyranny of the state. In Saudamini Siegrist’s play, she finally gets a voice that goes beyond the cliche. Besides telling her story and going in and out of the action, she is calling us all to arms, to stand up for justice in the face of corruption and alternative facts.

Is it a challenging piece from an actor’s perspective?

Challenging is an understatement. The sheer fact that I speak for an hour and a half, going from long monologues into dialogue, has been very trying. It is also challenging because I am the one telling the story as well as living the story at the same time. We had to come up with ways that tell the story that are not necessarily conventional, which made the process really interesting for me.

What’s it’s like working with Myriam Cyr?

I love working with Myriam. We speak a similar artistic language because our training and big chunk of our careers were in Europe. I worked with Ariane Mnouchkine at the Theatre du Soleil, where I acted with Shahrokh Moshkin Ghalam, who is now playing our Creon. She worked at the National Theatre in London and was trained at Lamda. We feed off each other’s respective experiences. Myriam asked us in the beginning to try anything she asks us to do at least once with full engagement, without censorship. I love that. She gives us the space to discover something like a child would.

When did you know an acting life was a life for you?

I was about 5 years old, and I went to see my sister’s performance of Rumpelstiltskin at her kindergarten. The teacher came up to me and asked me if I could play the fire. I sat down cross-legged on stage, and moved my hands up and down like flames and got a spontaneous applause by the parents, my first audience. My fate was sealed that day. I never wanted to be anything else.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

I Am Antigone plays through Sept. 16 at Theater for a New City’s Dream Up Festival in New York City. Click here for more information and tickets.

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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