A.R. Gurney’s Jewish Antigone
Updated political references pointlessly place this production in the present, but the play (first produced in New York at Playwrights’ Horizons in 1988) was set by Gurney in 1983 at the fictional Wakefield College in Massachusetts (Gurney taught at M.I.T.). For her paper on Sophocles, Judy Miller, a senior, submits a contemporary version of Antigone to Henry Harper, her Greek classics professor. Harper rejects her paper as another Antigone among the many which he has received and rejected in recent years.
Although Harper is clearly correct in noting that Judy's work is a presentation of her own simplistic philosophy and thus is not about Sophocles, he is coldly highhanded in dealing with her and refuses to discuss in any manner whatsoever the content of her submission.
The stubborn Ms. Miller refuses to withdraw her submission or submit an additional paper, but instead organizes a school production of her play in order to pressure Harper to recognize and accept her efforts. Matters are further complicated as Harper’s on campus reputation as an anti-Semite is brought to her attention. As she comes to suspect that antipathy for Jews may be playing a role in Harper’s treatment of her, Miller, to whom being Jewish has not particularly mattered, turns her Antigone into a Jewish girl who is the suffering victim of centuries of persecution.
This well fleshed out story is only background to the major thrust of the play, which is the saga of Professor Hopkins. As Sophocles' Antigone is centrally about the tragic, fatally hubristic King Creon of Thebes, the Gurney Antigone is about the tragic, fatally hubristic Professor Hopkins. Each is fully responsible for his own destruction and, as Sophocles wrote, “On no one else, of all that live, the fearful guilt can come.”
As Hopkins, Al Morhmann is a wonder. He fully inhabits the role. With the solid backing of Gurney’s writing, we are presented with a fully fleshed out human being who has much wisdom (which he loves to impart to his students) and whose lack of sympathy for Jewish concerns as well as over privileged coeds at first appear reasonable. As the tragically flawed nature of his character emerges, he retains his humanity and our sympathy.
Catherine Rust as his confidante and only true friend, school administrator Diana Eberhart, provides an extremely solid performance. Troubled by the requirements of her administrative role and longing to return to the classroom, her attempts to serve the school, Ms. Miller and Hopkins tear her apart. However, her most significant work is in providing support to Mohrmann throughout some moving second act scenes.
Brian Maslow as Dave Appleton, Judy’s boyfriend who is inspired by Harper to study the classics, is extremely likeable and naturalistic. He completes a trio of performances that serve Gurney perfectly.
Of the four principal characters, all are sympathetic, terribly human and extremely intelligent. Each one is allowed to score points with the audience. There is much humor in the play, and much of it comes from Gurney’s satire of Judy Miller’s playwriting efforts and her sophomoric espousal of socio-political beliefs.
Judy is also a brilliant student in her areas of expertise and has been recruited for an almost impossible to attain high level training program with a leading financial banker. Resourceful, hard working and possessed of organizational and leadership skills, she is striving to define herself and her values.
Sadly, this pivotal role falls to Christina Odermatt who simply hasn’t a clue as to either her character or the play. Has she ever known a Judy Miller? There is not a glimmer of intelligence or animation behind Odermatt’s blank, vapid expression. She speaks in a high, nasal, unmodulated whine, lisps and garbles her dialogue. Her walk off line at the performance seen is yet to be heard.
Although this is described as a four character play, six Centenary College students appear throughout as students on the Wakefield College campus. Their presence lends verisimilitude to the production.
Christopher Hoyt’s set design works well. With some office furniture toward stage left, a campus bench toward stage right and some steps, three sort of Greek columns, and a partial wall to the rear at center stage, a nice balance of realism and classicism is attractively achieved.
The work of director Kimothy Cruse is difficult to evaluate. Three of his four principals give exemplary performances. However, there is the question of the casting and interpretation of the role of Judy Miller. If what Cruse wanted was what he got here, he has seriously misread the play.
Another Antigone is so rich and sharply observed in character detail, and so well balanced in giving voice to the ideas and feelings of its protagonists, that it is possible for different viewers to interpret it in different ways. It is certain that some will view Professor Harper as being the author’s spokesman, expressing Gurney’s views on American foreign policy, which on one occasion is expressed in a bigoted manner. However, after much thought and analysis (and with knowledge of the original Sophocles), I think that such an interpretation would be incorrect.
A. R.Gurney’s Another Antigone is an unusually brilliant play that rewards analysis and encourages one to evaluate oneself as well as social and cultural issues.
Another Antigone continues through November 23, 2003 at the Centenary Stage Company on campus at Centenary College, 400 Jefferson Street, Hackettstown, NJ 07840. Box Office: 908-979-0900; 0nline: www.centenarystageco.org.
Another Antigone by A. R. Gurney; directed by Kimothy Cruse. Cast: Al Morhmann (Henry Hopkins); Christina Odermatt (Judy Miller); Catherine Rust (Diana Eberhart); Brian Maslow (Dave Appleton). Also April Dunlop, Greg Selm-Orr, Desiree Fitzgerald, Sean O’Keefe, Rachel Foster, Vlad De Los Santos, Yeonwook (Sunny) Son (Wakefield University students).