Theatre Hopkins' double take: Modern success of classic tragedy

November 03, 1993|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Theater Critic

It takes a certain amount of skill, and maybe a little hubris, to stage a Greek tragedy. It takes even more skill to stage it with masks -- as the Greeks did. In fact, for an American cast, probably the only thing more difficult would be to stage it in the original classic Greek.

Director Suzanne Pratt and the talented cast at Theatre Hopkins don't go that far with Sophocles' "Antigone."

But they have added an intriguing wrinkle. Actually, they've added more than a wrinkle, they've added another entire play -- A. R. Gurney's "Another Antigone."

I don't know whether this particular double bill has ever been tried before, and though it makes a long evening, it's a highly stimulating one. Gurney's 20th-century play helps illuminate Sophocles' fifth century B.C. play for modern audiences, and Gurney's witty allusions to "Antigone" come across more clearly and humorously immediately after seeing the ur-text (as translated by Dudley Fitts and Robert Fitzgerald).

To examine them in the order in which they are presented (age and tragedy before youth and comedy), let's start with those tricky masks. Although a sense of the characters' personalities can be gleaned from William Crowther's mask designs, the strength of the characterizations stems from the performances.

Regina Molling's Antigone radiates dignity and determination, from her noble bearing to her insistent, but not strained, voice.

However, the actors whose characters change have the tougher task, and Stan Weiman's willful Creon is a fine example. To paraphrase a line from Gurney's play, "Antigone" is really Creon's tragedy, and Weiman's portrayal makes that indisputable, as this proud king becomes humbled and eventually grief-stricken -- an emotion Weiman conveys most effectively in his quieter moments.

The real revelation, however, is Jimi Kinstle's depiction of Haimon, Creon's son and Antigone's betrothed.

As the dutiful son, Kinstle at first appears almost servile; but we realize this is merely appearance when he challenges his father's prideful judgment, and in the process evolves from a boy to a man.

In "Another Antigone," the tragic figure is neither king nor princess. On the contrary, both are comic, if not ridiculous.

The "king" is a classics professor named Harper and the "princess" is astudent named Judy Miller. (She is, in fact, labeled "a Jewish princess" by Harker, and the issue of anti-Semitism figures prominently in the play.)

The central conflict arises when Judy tries to turn in an updated, anti-nuclear weapons version of "Antigone" instead of a term paper. Harper rejects it, largely because he believes tragedy means the "well-intentioned don't always win" -- a les

son he feels Judy has yet to learn. In this respect, he may be as unbending as Creon, but J. R. Lyston adds plenty of academic snobbery, making sure Harper is far from the tragic model he seeks to emulate.

As Lyston's casting indicates, the Gurney play has a separate cast. Fascinating as it would be to see the same actors in parallel roles, this would also be extremely demanding, especially for non-professionals.

And, it's difficult to imagine more on-key performances than those ofLaura Gifford as zealously earnest Judy or Michael Stricker as her kind-hearted beau.

As for Carol Mason's frazzled dean, she's so realistic, she could hold a day job in Hopkins' administrative offices.

For that matter, seeing Gurney's play on a university campus adds another layer of fun. Together with the cleverness and insight that went into this double bill, it's almost impossible to come away from these "Antigone's" claiming "they're all Greek to me."

THEATER REVIEW

What: "Antigone" and "Another Antigone"

Where: Theatre Hopkins, Merrick Barn, Johns Hopkins University

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2:15 p.m. Sundays, 7:30 p.m. Nov. 21; through Nov. 28

Tickets: $8 and $10

Call: (410) 516-7159

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