Robben Island, off the coast of South Africa, looks beautiful from a distance, but for decades it was a dumping ground for political prisoners, most notably Nelson Mandela. Cellmates Winston (Doug Brown) and John (Michael Anthony Williams) spend their days in mindless hard labor, breaking and hauling rocks in a quarry or shoveling sand on the beach, At night, however, they make plans to appear in a prisoners' variety show, performing an abridged version of Sophocles' Antigone.
John is wiry, nervous, and restless; it's his idea to present a play about a woman standing up to tyranny. Winston, stockier and less bookish, is agreeable but only up to a point, especially when he sees the costume and wig he will wear as the doomed Antigone. (For those not up on their Greek tragedies: Antigone, daughter of Oedipus, had two brothers who went to war against each other after their father's death and were both killed. Their uncle, Creon, decreed that one of the sons would receive an honored burial but the other, whom he called a traitor, would be left unburied. Antigone buries her brother in defiance of Creon's order and is subsequently walled up in a tomb.)
Brown, who played the same role in a 1991 production at MetroStage, and Williams are well matched as men doing whatever they can to stave off despair as the days stretch on endlessly. Sometimes they cry out, sometimes they find humor amid the darkness, but their triumph is that they keep going. Director Thomas W. Jones II keeps the temperature of the 75-minute performance at a simmer, following John and Winston as they retell stories from their former lives and fantasize about the day when they will be released.