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Writing for Us
A CurtainUp Review
Antigone Project by Elyse Sommer

I cannot deliver a heart. Or a body. Or a medal. And you cannot come into my office -- a Negro-- a black apparition-- --- General Carlton
I must bury. . .my brother's purple heart ---Antoinette Thebes
from Medallion.
April Yvette Thompson and Tracie Thoms
(l. to r.) April Yvette Thompson & Tracie Thoms (Photo: T. Charles Erickson)
The ancient Greek playwrights are beginning to rival Shakespeare as inspiration for both classic and new interpretations. This season alone, the National Theater of Greece made one of its periodic visits to City Center with Lyistrata and at the 45 Bleeker Street basement theater, a production of Euripides' Hecuba heralded a rare appearance by the renowned voice teacher Kristin Linklater. At La Mama the Freshly Squeezed Creative Juices Theatre Company squeezed a fresh adaptation out of Aristophanes' Archanians.

Now the Women's Project, dedicated to the works of women playwrights, has commissioned five writers to put their own spin on Sophocles Antigone. Antigone, as you may recall is the gutsy title character who risks her own death in order to bury her brother even though the dictator Creon had declared him a traitor whose body should be left to rot. As a quick click to some of the links at the end of this review will make plain, this is not the first attempt to reinterpret this mythical heroine's story. It is, however, the first time that I can recall seeing five variations mounted on one stage, each one lasting for just ten to fifteen minutes.

I went to see this group project intrigued by the mix of playwrights artistic director Loretta Greco assigned to this separate yet joint task. Would five Antigones be too much of a good thing? Could each play really differentiate itself and yet work within the overall "project" tag and move from one playlet to the next without too many cumbersome set changes? Could five different directors give the plays in their charge a unique vision without losing their hold on the connecting thread?

The good news is that what we get is five plays whose only link, the source material, is so completely turned on its head that there's no repetition other than that each play features an Antigone. Karen Hartman, Caridad Svich and Lynn Nottage have moved the story to the present, though in vastly different settings. Tanya Barfield has renamed her heroine Antoinette Thebes and used a 1918 time frame, while Chiori Miyagawa has given the myth a surreal twist by following Antigone to the Underworld.

The plays are inhabited by an excellent core ensemble, with Angel Desai playing Antigone twice and Jeannie Serralles segueing from sister Ismene in the opening piece to the title character in the third. The actors' appearance in more than one play and Rachel Hauk's set, which handily accommodates the changes in time and place, abet the directors in individualizing their assignments and also working as a cohesive unit.

Deconstructing a classic invariably bumps up against the problem of seeming to try too hard to be trendy and different. Caridad Svich's Antigone Arkhe is a case in point. It cleverly uses an archivist-lecturer (Joey Collins) in an Antigone museum to reconstruct the story from statues (the Antigone statue animated by Jeanne Serrales). However, while the extensive use of projections makes this the most elaborately staged effort, it ends up going on too long and is somewhat too reminiscent of a similar twist used to frame the musical Aida (see review).

The ten to fifteen-minute format also runs the risk of producing plays that never shake off the sense of being sketches waiting to be turned into plays. Something of a case in point here is Karen Hartman's Hang Ten in which Antigone (Desai) and her sister (Serrales) are recast as bathing beauties discussing their tragic family history while eyeing a hunk-y surfer (DeSean Terry). This piece does have a pungent O.Henry twist which I won't give away here.

The two most straightforward plays, Tanya Barfield's Medallion and Lyn Nottage's A Stone's Throw are also the most moving and satisfying. Barfield's Antigone or Antoinette Thebes (April Yvette Thompson) ) is a World War I soldier's sister who poignantly demands to be given the purple heart medal that is her fallen brother's due. The white general (Joey Collins) she confronts personifies the Zeitgeist of an army that has shamefully denied recognition to brave Americans like Antoinette's brother. Nottage's A Stone's Throw is a lovely, moving story about a woman (Tracie Thoms) in a modern African community whose backward social mores doom her attraction to a chivalrous young man (DeSean Terry). The present to past storytelling helps this to overcome the Project's tendency to come off as a playwriting exercise.

This is the first in the Women's Project (bravo, for shortening their name) 2004-05 season. It will be followed by a new musical, by Deidre Murray and Randy Weiner, Best of Both Worlds co-produced with Music-Theatre Group and conclude with an as yet to be named world premiere directed by artistic director Loretta Greco.

Antigone from NAATCO
Antigone at CSC
Antigone Through Time at FringeNYC
The Island
The Phoenician Women

Antigone Project

Playwright: Sophocles, with adaptations by Tanya Barfield, Karen Hartman, Chiori Miyagawa, Lynn Nottage and Caridad Svich
Hang Ten by Karen Hartman, directed by Anne Kauffman,
Cast: Angel Desai (Antigone), Jeanine Seralles (Ismene), DeSean Terry (Surfer)

Medallion by Tanya Barfield, directed by Dana Iris Harrel Cast: Joey Collins (General Carlton), April Yvette Thompson (Antoinette Thebes), Voiceovers (Joey Collins, Angel Desai, Jeanine Seralles)

ANTIGONE ARKHE by Caridad Svich, directed by Annie Dorsen
Cast: Jeanine Seralles (Antigone), Joey Collins (Archivist), April Yvette Thompson (Narration)

A STONE'S THROW by Lynn Nottage, directed by Liesl Tommy
Cast: Tracie Thoms (Antigone), DeSean Terry (Man/Judge/Reporter), April Yvette Thompson (Ismene/Reporter), Joey Collins, Angel Desai, Jeanine Seralles (Reporters)

RED AGAIN by Chiori Miyagawa, directed by Barbara Rubin
Cast: Angel Desai (Antigone), Joey Collins (Harold), Tracie Thoms (Irene).

Set Design: Rachel Hauck
Costume Design: Elizabeth Hope Clancy;
Lighting Design: Sarah Sidman
Original Music & Sound Design: Robin Kaplowitz
Projections: Nick Schwartz-Hall
Running time: 70 minutes, with no intermission
Women's Project, The Julia Miles Theater, 424 West 55th Street(9th/ 10 Avenues), 212/239-6200
From 10/01/04 to 11/0/04 .
Wed through Sat @ 8:00PM, Sun @ 7:00PM, Sat & Sun @ 2:00PM -- $47.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 10/23 press performance
Tales From Shakespeare
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