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A Noise Within

Emily James and Stephen Weingartner
Even if you don't remember your Sophocles, you'll know exactly how Jean Anouilh's Antigone (in a new translation by Robertson Dean) is going to play out. The play opens on a one-woman Chorus who goes into teacher mode, introducing us to each of the characters and telling us exactly how they will each end the play. So, even if Antigone is new to you, the production comes with its own built-in spoilers.

This is key. Anouilh's version is not about the dramatic tension—whether Antigone will violate Creon's decree and bury her brother is not in doubt; nor is whether Creon will have her killed for doing it. While Sophocles may have been concerned with the tension between divine law (mandating the burial) and man's law (King Creon's dictate), Anouilh is dealing with rather more modern issues. This is a play about doing what's right, no matter what the risks—and, from Creon's point of view, the folly of sticking to your guns, even when you're not willing to accept the cost.

All of which means that there is only scene in this production that actually matters (which may be why this version wisely comes in at a brisk 90 minutes—this is a single scene play with a lot of window-dressing). We quickly learn that Antigone has buried her brother and Creon learns it too. This sets up a confrontation between the two. And it isn't Antigone begging for her life; it's Creon offering Antigone an out and begging her to take it. He's willing to cover up her crime and save her life, but Antigone won't have it. Creon would have to kill the guards who know Antigone buried her brother, but Antigone isn't moved by any sort of concern for them. She simply expects Creon to be true to his word—he made it law that burying Polynices is to be punished by a very ugly death—and while she doesn't want to die, she knows that she signed up for it when she made the decision to do what was right and not leave her brothers body to rot.

In A Noise Within's production, Emily James gives us a simple, clear, unwavering Antigone. SHe's small in stature, compared with Eric Curtis Johnson's towering Creon, but she has power over him in her absolute resolve. Johnson's Creon is less certain of himself. He tries every tactic he can think of to get Antigone to accept his offer—first smoothly assuming she'll accept it, then mocking her when she won't. He then questions the value of burying Polynices anyway. At one point, he even turns to violence against Antigone. With each attempt, he runs up against the immovable force that is Antigone; and with each attempt, another layer of the falsehoods with which Creon surrounds himself peels away. It is a very nice performance by Johnson, as we watch Antigone's resolve somehow getting her closer and closer to seeing the man beneath the King—yet we know that we're not quite going to get all the way there until the play's tragic ending.

But, really, that's all there is to it. After the Chorus sets up the play, Antigone has a scene with Nunu, the woman who raised her. Lorna Raver plays it like she's auditioning for Juliet's Nurse, and while her scene with Antigone is helpful in establishing Antigone's youth and her love of life, it drags. Coming right after the Chorus set up the tragedy to come, Antigone goofing with Nunu tries audience patience. Antigone's sister Ismene (Antigone's name is given the traditional Greek pronunciation while Ismene has the French—if there is some significance to this, I'll admit it was lost on me) seems to be there just to try to convince Antigone to not risk burying their brother and forcing Creon's hand. Brick Patrick plays Haemon, Creon's son and Antigone's fiancé. The Chorus tells us that Ismene is more his type, but Patrick certainly plays Haemon as deeply in love with Antigone. Stephen Weingartner steals the few scenes in which he appears as a guard who is just trying to do his job without losing his head to a King trying to solidify his authority. Inger Tudor's Chorus neatly uses modern, conversational language to help a modern audience get into the play. She's less successful with a mid-play lecture on tragedy.

Tech credits are mostly good, particularly Jean-Yves Tessier's lighting. Martin Carrillo's sound design is marred by an onstage radio being played at headache-inducing volume. Frederica Nascimento's set is simple, but does a nice job of representing both Anouilh's occupied Paris and classical Thebes at once.

Antigone runs through November 20, 2015, at A Noise Within in Pasadena. For tickets and information, see

Jean Anouilh's Antigone, Adapted and Translated by Robertson Dean. Directed by Robertson Dean. Scenic Design Frederica Nascimento; Costume Design Jenny Foldenauer; Lighting Design Jean-Yves Tessier; Composer/Sound Design Martin Carrillo; Stage Manager Elizabeth Nordenholt; Hair, Wig, and Makeup Design Val Miller; Props Master Erin Walley; Assistant Stage Manager Thomas Nagata; Stage Management Intern Gabrielle Bruno.

Chorus - Inger Tudor
Nunu - Lorna Raver
Antigone - Emily James
Ismene - Kyla Garcia
Haemon - Brick Patrick
Guard - Stephen Weingartner
Creon - Eric Curtis Johnson
Amanuensis - Taleen Shrikian

Photo: Craig Schwartz

- Sharon Perlmutter

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