Tracie Thoms (best known for films Rent and The Devil Wears Prada, and Broadway’s Falsettos) and Zach Grenier (best known for TV’s The Good Wife and Deadwood and films including Fight Club) will play the lead roles of Antigone and Creon, respectively, in the Hopkins Center for the Arts’ presentation of Antigone in Ferguson, a powerful interpretation of the Greek tragedy by the groundbreaking company Theater of War. The performances take place Friday & Saturday, September 15 & 16, 8 pm in The Moore Theater of the Hop.
Created in response to the community upheaval following the 2014 police killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, Antigone in Ferguson brings in well-known actors to deliver a staged reading of Sophocles’ 2,500-year-old play about a young woman, Antigone, who buries her slain brother, in defiance of orders from the king, Creon. (Creon wishes to punish the brother, Polynices, for leading a rebellion against him.) The readings are interspersed with soul-searching gospel songs by a choir including law enforcement, clergy and other members of the Ferguson community. At Dartmouth, those singers will be joined by members of the Dartmouth College Gospel Choir.
Afterwards, cast, audience and local community leaders will engage in a vigorous dialogue about the issues raised by Antigone in Ferguson and where to go from here. Theater of War was founded by writer, director and translator Bryan Doerries, a self-described evangelist for classical literature and its relevance to our lives today. Discussion will be led by a panel of “respondents,” to be announced later, that will include activists, members of law enforcement and Dartmouth students.
The experience starts with a no-holds-barred reading of the powerful text, which the Hop cast is sure to deliver. No one who has seen the 2005 movie version of the musical Rent can forget Thoms’ brilliant performance as Joanne Jefferson, the fiery, lovesick, yet dignified lawyer girlfriend of the selfish, volatile artist Maureen, especially in the duet Take Me or Leave Me, in which the two women lay waste to their wedding reception and their relationship. She also played the role in Rent’s final Broadway season. Her most recent credits include “Charlotte” in the 2016-17 Broadway revival of Falsettos; and recurring roles on the Netflix series Love (2016-present) and the upcoming third season of Lifetime’s UnREAL.
Grenier is a familiar presence to television, screen and stage audiences, with credits in all those areas going back to the 1980s. Recent roles include activist priest Father McSorley, on NBC’s Chicago PD; political dynasty patriarch on CBS’s political satire BrainDead; ethically-challenged family lawyer David Lee on seven years of CBS’s The Good Wife, a role he revived for CBS’s The Good Fight earlier this year; and Detective Cassel in the 2017 movie Crown Heights.
This is Thoms’ first Theater of War production, while Grenier has done prior productions, including a May 2017 reading of Sophocles’ Philoctetes as part of New York City’s Fleet Week.
Other roles in the Dartmouth production are played by Theater of War regulars Duane Foster, Marjolaine Goldsmith and Willie Woodmore.
Theater of War presents community-specific, theater-based projects that address pressing public health and social issues. Through the presentation of dramatic readings of seminal plays followed by public conversations, the company’s programs confront topics such as combat-related psychological injury, end-of-life care, police and community relations, prison reform, gun violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, and substance abuse and addiction. Using theater to build a common vocabulary for openly discussing the impact of these issues, events are designed to generate compassion, empathy, and understanding between diverse audiences. All events are free to the public and feature leading film, theater, and television actors.
Antigone in Ferguson came about after Brown’s killing and the growing Black Lives Matter movement underscored a terrible rift between community members and law enforcement, in cities across the nation. Last fall, two years after Brown’s killing, Ferguson community leaders took the unconventional path toward healing divisions of teaming up with Theater of War on this project.
Antigone was chosen because it examines what happens when personal conviction and state law clash, and violence ensues—an issue relevant to all societies, in all eras, and particularly now. The play also echoes one of the most heartbreaking aspects of Michael Brown’s death: that his body was left on the street on a hot summer day for four hours after his killing.
Said Doerries in an interview with PBS Newshour: “The central question of this play, Antigone, is, what happens when everyone’s right or feels justified in what they’re doing? We think about the fact that the protester in the street is right for feeling rage and betrayal and anger, for being devastated by incident after incident after incident that we keep hearing about in the news. And the police force is right to be afraid, because we live in this incredibly violent world, in which one only has a few milliseconds sometimes to make a decision that could change the rest of your life. And so the play’s about stepping back from all that and acknowledging that we’re all human and we’re all fallible.”
The show’s presenters go to great lengths to bring together especially large, diverse audiences composed of concerned citizens, members of faith communities, and members of the law enforcement community, with the goal of generating powerful dialogue between these communities, fostering compassion, understanding, and positive action.