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To address the issue of gun violence in Chicago, playwright Nambi E. Kelley looked to history — ancient history.
Kelley’s “Xtigone,” which opens Thursday at MSU, tells the story of Tigs, a young woman who loses both of her brothers to gang violence.
“‘Xtigone’ is a reimagining of the Greek tragedy ‘Antigone,’ but it is set in modern time in Chicago,” said Shondrika Moss-Bouldin, co-founder of Soulploitation Creative Works and director of the production.
Tig’s two brothers, leaders of rival gangs, are on the verge of a truce when both of them are gunned down in a driveby shooting. In the wake of the killings, Tigs is finds herself at odds with her uncle, Marcellus, who is mayor of the city.
“Tigs stands up against her uncle, because he wants both of her brothers buried,” Moss-Bouldin said. “She wants to unbury one of them, because she feels as if burying is covering up. If you are covering things up, you can’t really get the truth.”
The play borrows structure and themes from the ancient Greek tragedy, but uses hip hop, poetry, dance and dialogue with an urban voice to tell the story of a city that is held hostage by gun violence.
“It is speaking and asking the question, ‘Who is responsible for this continuous gun violence, especially with young people?’” Moss-Bouldin said. “(Kelley) is also talking about who is responsible the numerous deaths of African American males.”
The production looks at the victims of gun violence, as well as those left behind to deal with the loss of their friends or family.
“How do you comfort someone when their loved ones have been gunned down — and furthermore, what if you don’t even know who did it?” Moss-Bouldin asked.
While the production raises important questions about accountability for the continuous violence, it also has a message about community healing.
“What I love about the theme of the play is that it talks about forgiveness and redemption, which I think is very powerful, and I really love that,” Moss-Bouldin said.
It also tackles issues like the normalization of violence in society and the public’s indifference to violence that occurs in the streets.
“Are we so numb to violence because we see it so much?” Moss-Bouldin asked. “We just don’t even realize that this is somebody’s child, this is someone’s brother, this is someone’s husband. How do we get past the numbness of the gun violence and humanize it? I think it’s a very important question that Nambi is asking in this play.”
MSU Department of Theatre 7:30pm Thursday, March 31; 8 p.m.
Friday, April 1 and Saturday, April 2; 2 p.m.
Sunday, April 3 $13/$11 seniors and faculty/$10 students Arena Theatre 542 Auditorium Road, East Lansing.
(517) 432-2000, whartoncenter.com