by Tracey Paleo, Gia On The Move

Exile.  A death beyond death.  Homeless and outlawed forever.

Another Antigone  by A. R. Gurney, now playing Upstairs at the Group Rep is a modern tale based on the Greek tragedy, Antigone by Sophocles, which is a classic story of how unbending hubris destroys all who fall prey to its spell. 

Judy Miller, a gifted Jewish college senior, presents a short play to her Greek Theater professor, Henry Harper – an updated, anti-nuclear version of Antigone in place of the formal paper that Harper has assigned. Harper refuses to accept her paper and threatens to fail her (and hence keep her from graduating) if she doesn’t provide a more traditional one.  A battle of wills ensues, as both of them refuse to budge from their convictions.

There are hot button issues in this play. And so although entertaining enough, this production does not adequately satisfy the script which can come across as light but for the lack of really ‘hearing’ the dialog being presented.

Professor Harper finds himself at a cross roads of truth and politics.  Should he stay fast to his beliefs and standards, outdated as they seem to everyone else?  Or succumb to the ever-growing mediocrity that seems to be pervading his classic Greek studies class?

Judy, a brilliant and clever student admits that she ‘could’ submit the boring paper that is required (and agreed upon at the time of entrance to the class) but when a new idea bubbles up in her brain, she feels it is her duty to buck the system.  The decision is not out of malice or ignorance but a desire to explain a certain truth of modern life experience within the context of Antigone’s struggle.

The conflict is so much about a passion for what’s right.  He doesn’t like editing. She wants to revise everything.  Neither of them is going to yield.   It would have been boiled down to a simple battle of wills but for an accusation of anti-Semitism (however unfounded or not) that arises and everything takes an ugly turn.

What are we looking at really? Or so Gurney may be asking in this play.

A bona-fide case of anti-Semitism?  Or a situation where a label is conveniently used to further an agenda?  It’s the uncomfortable question.

One could look at this and say, “Nothing wrong at all here.” But then, one could also say that there might be a tiny bit of truth or at least a worrisome notion to either of their arguments, if not both, making this a needling production considering the current sociopolitical climate in which we are living, where diversity is a key discussion, there is a rise of anti-Semitism and racism in the world and even currently here in Hollywood surrounding the boycott threats of the “white” Oscars.

Judy herself, doesn’t actually consider Professor Harper an anti-Semite.  In fact, she openly comes to his defense.  The professor doesn’t actually hate Judy apart from the fact that he is certainly a curmudgeonly strict teacher who is a stickler for guidelines and has a profound reverence for the classics.  He mostly thinks Judy is immature, naive and not as deeply in touch with her studies.  Although, his behavior and language is always available as a display of hatred, especially to everyone else who hears his elucidation of the classic , ‘age old Athens versus Jerusalem argument’, which in large part sets the firestorm off. 

It is really when the Dean (Diana) asks the question of Judy which crosses the fine line of planting the thought in Judy’s head or pointing out was there all along.  Either way, the idea develops, and then, of course, snowballs in the worst way for everyone.

Ultimately, it’s a choice for both.  Which deletes the whole idea of “tragedy” by definition (when one has no choice at all) making this a very keen twist indeed in the writing.

Actor Doug Haverty puts down a very determined performance as Professor Henry Harper allowing the other characters to find their way around the drama.  Natalie Santamaria, as Judy, is wonderfully ebullient but doesn’t quite delve into the character staying mostly on the same note. And the production doesn’t reach a clear arc but for the final scene when the professor, almost heroically exiles himself out of the educational system to satisfy the outcome. Debi Tinsley (Dean Diana) and Louis Schneider (Dave) offer some nicely and simply presented points of view that round out the presentation very well.

All said, this is a wonderful opportunity to experience an A.R. Gurney play which is overall entertaining. (rated Ages 12+)

**** Please note*** Upstairs at the Group Rep is NOT Handicapped Accessible

The cast features: Doug Haverty, Natalia Santamaria, Louis Schneider, and Debi Tinsley
Running time: 120 minutes; one intermission