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Antigone's Example: A View of the Living Theatre's Production, Process, and Praxis

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 July 2009


The Living Theatre is a metaphor for the sixties, its very name conjuring up the undulating movement, the pulsing flow, the argumentative spirit that characterized that time.

At the center of the Living Theatre's production of Sophocles' Antigone, translator and director Judith Malina presented the verbal battle between the State/Authority/Patriarchal-figure, kreon (played by Living Theatre co-director Julian Beck), and the Individual/Disenfranchised/Woman, Antigone, (played by Malina herself). At performances of Antigone presented throughout Europe during the dynamic years of 1967 and 1968, spectators were meant to see with new eyes the incendiary struggles taking place outside the theatre. Following Antigone's example, they were meant to take on—individually—the political responsibility and the challenge, and to take part in revolutionary actions. Foregrounded onstage was the battle of the sexes, the battle of the generations, the fire in the belly of the cultural/sexual/political Zeitgeist.

Copyright © American Society for Theatre Research 2000

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1. Beck, Julian, the life of the theatre (San Francisco: City Lights, 1972), 66, 115.Google Scholar

2. yale/theatre 2, 1 (Spring 1969), 27.

3. Novick, Julius, The Village Voice, 7 February 1984Google Scholar

4. I develop this idea in Chapter 5 of “Living the Contradiction: The Living Theatre's Revision of Sophocles' Antigone through Brecht and Artaud” (Ph.D. dissertation, New York University, 1997)Google Scholar. Using Elin Diamond's “Brechtian Theories/Feminist Theories,” (TDR 32 [1 Spring 1988]), 82–94, as a springboard, I write “What if Malina/Antigone had seized the opportunity to be a super-transgressor of the status quo, shaking the very foundations of the patriarchal system with the irrefutable presence of her aging body?” And following Luce Irigiray's suggestion in “The sex which is not one,” in New French Feminisms, ed. Elaine Marks and Isabelle de Courtivon (New York: Schocken, 1981), I argue “If Malina had chosen to ‘play with mimesis […] make visible […] what was supposed to remain invisible,’ she might have successfully denaturalized gender construction in her performance of Antigone and created an alienation effect that was profoundly politically resistant.”

5. Blau, Herbert, The Impossible Theatre: A Manifesto, (New York: Macmillan, 1964), 309.Google Scholar

6. Schechner, Richard, “TDR Comment: Prescript to Politics.” TDR 12,1 (Fall 1967), 1820.Google Scholar

7. One of the most legendary events in the long history of the Living Theatre's struggles with authority was their fight with the Internal Revenue Service that resulted in their eviction from their 14th Street Theatre in 1963. For more on the LT's landmark production of Kenneth Brown's The Brig, which performed there, Beck's ongoing financial dealings/crises, and the highly theatrical Beck/Malina trial that led to their imprisonment, see Gelber's, JackJulian Beck, Businessman,” TDR 30, 2 (1986): 629Google Scholar; Beck's, Julian “Storming the Barricades” from The Brig by Kenneth H. Brown, (New York: Hill and Wang, 1965)Google Scholar; Beck's, How to Close a Theatre,” TDR 8, 3 (Spring 1964), 180190Google Scholar; and in the same issue of TDR, Richard Schechner's “The Living Theatre and Larger Issues” 191–206; and his “Interviews with Judith Malina and Kenneth Brown,” 207–219.

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9. Malina is referring to the set or the physical space of her production of Kenneth H. Brown's The Brig, which the LT performed at its 14th Street Theatre in 1963. The play depicts brutalities within a U.S. military prison.

10. Judith Malina, interview with the author, 14 January 1994.

11. One “straightforward” German-to-English translation I refer to and later cite in this chapter is Elwood's, William R., which is found, in part, in his useful essay, “Hasenclever and Brecht: A Critical Comparison of Two Antigones,” Educational Theatre Journal 24, 1 (03 1972): 4871.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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26. Other Living Theatre text adaptations and productions also reflect a pro-Marxist approach. These include Frankenstein (premiered 1965) and Prometheus at the Winter Palace (premiered 1978).

27. In Malina's translation of Sophocles' Antigone, see Antigone's line 31 and Tiresias's lines 1003–13.

28. Elwood's translation, in his “Hasenclever and Brecht: A Critical Comparison of Two Antigones,” 56.

29. In Malina's translation of Sophocles' Antigone, see Kreon's line 184, p. 22.

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34. Artaud, 252.

35. Malina's translation of Antigone, 29, line 390.

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39. Interview with the author, 13 January 1994.

40. Badike interview with the author, 20 May 1994.

41. Positive pregnancy test results in Malina's calendar diary log, 17 January 1967.

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