Greek Tragedy ably performed by 17 year olds? Is such a thing possible? Read on.
The play is Sophocles’ Antigone, which is probably the best dramatic examination of the conflict we all face concerning our duty to the state at large, and our own personal values and beliefs.
The story’s center is Creon, the new king of Thebes. In this version, he is the president of an unnamed country, much like the United States. The production’s imposing multilevel setting, (by Joshua Gallaghar) is the basement emergency bunker in a center of power, much like the White House. The stage pictures remind us of the figures huddled around laptops and large video screens during the 9/11 attack or the finding of Osama Bin Laden.
Creon’s first televised state of the union address, following a well choreographed battle scene complete with sirens, flashing lights, and impressive videos, (courtesy of Chris Miller), is the standard speech of a good statesman pledging to do the best for his troubled country. All seems well, but as soon as problems develop in his administration, ego, narcissism, misogyny, and paranoia come to the fore. What began as good government devolves into the flaws of character that create all tragedy. Seeing a well-intentioned country disintegrate in the hands of self-serving leadership offers scant comfort one week before one of the most controversial elections in all of our lifetimes.
Director Katie Knoblock fills the stage with inventive ideas. The bunker teems with a chorus that functions not only as the author’s voice of reason, but as standard White House functionaries. There is the chief of staff, (Alana Kopelove), the multi-medaled general (Anthony Giannone), secretaries, congressmen, and soldiers, (Sklyer Federer, Sarah Wilson, Amanda Peacock, Melina Madara, Kelly Bagby, Kearin Coonan, Cassidy Werkheiser, and London Jones.) They are all effectively costumed by Camila Carolina. News is frequently flashed on the huge video screen, which serves as both surveillance camera, and a gate to the outside world. One particular coup features Creon’s first clash with his rival, Antigone. Unknown to both of them, the violence is captured on video and then broadcast. This Antigone features exceptional staging that gives each character their “moment” and builds to an unforgettable visual climax.
Knoblock also fields terrific performances from the senior class of Gloucester County Institute of Technology. Matt Ludovico as Creon convincingly develops the character flaws that will eventually destroy him. He is absolutely effective as he interrogates Antigone, a strong willed and radiant Haley Watson, who has committed crimes against “the state.” A touching scene with his son, (played by Chris Campbell), who loves Antigone, only infuriates him further, and a final meeting with a blind political guru Teiresias, (Kumba Givens), drives him to the edge. This high school senior captures the trajectory of a true tragic hero.
The chorus contributes powerfully as well. The general always hovers near the omnipresent red telephone, as the assembled bureaucrats try to assess the developing cataclysm. The messengers who traditionally bring the bad news, Olivia Dinter, Ally Steuber and Sam Arcangeli are both comic and tragic as they skillfully narrate the offstage events, often complimented by surveillance footage on the big screen.
Other notable performances come from Emma Nevitt as Antigone’s sister and Lauren Minore as Creon’s wife. The faithful yet modern translation is by Don Taylor.
How is such a performance possible? First of all, GCIT is not a typical high school, where theater is strictly an extra curricular activity. Students must audition for the program and are given regular classes in acting, theatre history, and dramatic literature, as part of their daily education. In the junior year, the class performs a major American work such as The Crucible or The Miracle Worker, while the senior year is reserved for a Shakespeare, Moliere, Brecht or Greek Tragedy. Many of the students give inspiring auditions for major universities, NYU being a major beneficiary.
Director Katie Knobolch has taken full advantage of the situation and delivered a performance that kept the large audience silent for the full 90 minutes. A true night to remember.
Running Time: 90 minutes, without an intermission.
Antigone plays through Friday, November 4, 2016 at Gloucester County Institute of Technology – 1360 Tanyard Road, in Sewell, NJ. Curtain time is 7 PM, and tickets are only available at the door.