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San Francisco by Richard Connema

The Greek Tragedy Antigone meets contemporary China in Antigone Falun Gong

Also see Richard's reviews of After the Fall and The Mystery of Irma Vep

Antigone Falun Gong
David Furumoto, Michael Cheng
and Bonnie Akimoto

The Aurora Theatre Company is currently presenting the world premiere of Antigone Falun Gong, a stunning 80 minute production of Sophocles' tragedy that is reset in today's China. Bay Area playwright Cherylene Lee (The Legacy Codes) has adapted the Greek tragedy to the current "outlawed" Chinese cult which practices the controversial exercises that expand the mind and body through meditation and movements. The Chinese government has forbidden the exercises to be practice in public. The movement has gained great popularity among the Asians in our city.

Antigone has gone though many changes since it was first performed in 442 BC. My first experience with the play was seeing the legendary Katherine Cornell in the Cort Theatre in New York playing the lone woman defying a repressive government. Cedric Hardwicke played King Creon in that production of 1946. Since then, I have seen many versions of the classic, including Bertolt Brecht's antiwar version.

Playwright Lee decided the story could be translated to the current forbidden contentious interest group in China. She has mixed reality with fantasy by providing a Chinese opera style along with martial arts and Falun Gong exercises. The score by Mark Izu is very suggestive of the turbulent times in modern Chinese history. The choreography by Peter Kwong takes the place of a Greek chorus with the waving of Red Chinese flags used to great effect. A great swath of red silk fabric comes down at the rear of the three sided stage to symbolize the government's destruction of the illegal practices of the "religion." There is an amazing use of the red fabric as fire to symbolize the martyrdom of Antigone.

Director David Furumoto plays the role of Antigone's uncle, the governor of the providence. His Chinese opera exaggerated movement and speech are outstanding. Bonnie Akimoto as the Antigone figure has a certain Joan of Arc quality. This is a superb show of quiet intense emotion as an individual goes against a tyrannical government. H. Michael Ching is amusing as the reluctant guard of Antigone. Michael Cheng as the fiancÚ of Antigone gives a heartrending performance. Keiko Shimosato gives an excellent portrayal of the fearful sister who only wants to live a normal life without any political problems. She also doubles in the role of a very polished dancer in the choreographed sequences.

Raul Jacson, Frances Cachapero and Keiko Shimosato are all stylish dancers who serve as the chorus in some past memories that Antigone sees "through her third eye." Jacson is an astonishing light acrobatic dancer and very graceful in his movements. The three sided staging by Ching Yi-Wei is very good, with antiqued Chinese character stamps emblazed on a backdrop of pale yellow. The use of the red fabric to represent oppression, flames and blood is superb. The costumes by Fumiko Bielefeldt's are a mixture of modern and early Chinese Opera costumes.

Antigone Falun Gong runs through May 16 at the Aurora Theatre, 2081 Addison Street, Berkeley, Ca. For tickets call 510-843-4822 or visit www.auroratheatre.org.

Aurora Theatre's next production will be Harold Pinter's Betrayal, set to open June 18. An Aurora Theatre production of Kenneth Lonergan's Lobby Hero will be playing at the Napa Valley Opera House starting May 12 and running through May 22. For tickets to that production call 707-226-7372 or online at www.nvoh.com.


Photo: David Allen


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area


- Richard Connema



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