UChicago’s Court Theatre breathes new life into ‘Antigone’

Final chapter in the Oedipus Trilogy takes on love, justice and standing up to power

Since 2019, the University of Chicago’s Court Theatre has been on a fateful journey. As part of their mission to continually bring classic theatre to modern audiences, the Court set out to reimagine a tragic tale performed for over 2,000 years—Sophocles's Oedipus Trilogy.

Their adaption of the three-play cycle began with “Oedipus Rex.” In 2023, “The Gospel at Colonus” set the story of Oedipus’s redemption to a soul-stirring gospel soundtrack. On Feb. 2, Court opened “Antigone,” the final installment of their epic retelling.

“Antigone” centers on the daughter/sister of Oedipus. As the play opens, the eponymous heroine is in mourning. Antigone’s brothers are dead—murdered by each other’s hand in a civil war. Her uncle Creon, the new king of Thebes, has declared one of them a traitor. Directly defying his decree, Antigone buries her brother and incites a tragic chain of events.

Trace the journeys of Oedipus and Antigone from ancient Greece, to Court’s stage, to a UChicago classroom.

Oedipus Rex

“Oedipus Rex” tells the story of a Greek king haunted by a prophecy. Despite efforts to avoid an oracle’s foretelling that he would kill his father and marry his mother, Oedipus ultimately discovers he has already fulfilled his cursed fate.

The play was written by the Greek writer Sophocles around 429 B.C.E. “Rex,” and each subsequent production in the trilogy, used translations by Nicolas Rudall, Court’s founding artistic director. Rudall also taught classics for 40 years at UChicago and was known for his approachable, stage-friendly translations.

“The trilogy began with ‘Oedipus Rex’ and with Nick Rudall,” said Charles Newell, Marilyn F. Vitale Artistic Director of Court Theatre. “His translation, love of ancient Greek narrative, and belief in the classics’ modern relevance were the bedrock of this project.”

The Gospel at Colonus

In “The Gospel at Colonus,” a blinded Oedipus wanders in exile. His trek takes him to the village of Colonus where he seeks redemption, healing and a final resting place.

First staged in 1983 by creators Lee Breuer and Bob Telson, “Gospel” is a musical adaptation of Sophocles’s “Oedipus at Colonus” situated in the Black Pentecostal tradition. Court’s reprisal, staged during the 40th anniversary year of the original production, added elements of Chicago’s own gospel history.

In the summer of 2023, Court was invited to remount the critically acclaimed reprisal at L.A.’s Getty Villa.


The final play of Court’s trilogy, “Antigone” takes place in the aftermath of a civil war. First staged in 441 B.C.E., the play’s characters wrestle with the ethics and consequences of Antigone’s choice to defy authority.

“I’ve been in many instances throughout my life where I was being done wrong, but was scared to say something because of the repercussions,” said Ariana Burks, who reprises her role as Antigone’s sister Ismene.

“What I love about the story of Antigone is that—without a doubt, with no hesitation—Antigone knew what was right, and she knew what she needed to do for her family, despite what was going to happen to her.”

“the sister’s”

The art on the show’s playbills pulls inspiration from the relationship between Antigone and Ismene. Painted by Savannah E. Bowman, AB’23, “the sister’s” captures the love and tension between the two characters.

“My piece characterizes the general tragedy in the family and both sisters facing their fates: Antigone being condemned to death for disobedience and Ismene being left to mourn her,” said Bowman. “I feel like my piece could be representative of that snapshot, in which they’re both realizing that tragedy.”

From stage to classroom

In “Antigone and the Making of Theater,” taught by UChicago Prof. Sarah Nooter, students attended rehearsals and performances of the play at Court. They were also visited by actors Aeriel Williams, Ariana Burks, Timothy Edward Kane and set designer John Culbert.

“Each encounter, engagement, and conversation has immeasurably deepened their engagement in this play, in theater itself, and in theater as a way of life,” Nooter said.

As part of their assignments, students were tasked with their own adaptations and stagings of the play.

“This class has been built around the idea that an ancient text is resuscitated—brought back to life—each time it is translated, adapted, theorized, staged, performed,” said Nooter. “To be able to demonstrate this through the production of ‘Antigone’ at the Court Theatre has been nothing less than transformative.”

Director’s cut

The class will also be visited by “Antigone” director Gabrielle Randle-Bent, who also served as dramaturg for the Oedipus Trilogy.

“We rarely choose ‘Antigone’—it chooses its moment,” Randle-Bent said. “So the question then becomes, ‘What is it about now that means that we need Antigone?’ It feels really right for right now, and that urgency is incredibly exciting to me as a director, as a scholar, and as a person in our world at this moment.”

—This story contains material which first appeared on Court Theatre’s website.

—“Antigone” will run until March 2. Tickets are now on sale.