Sunday, February 14, 2016


This classic tragedy, in Anouilh's wartime translation, is enhanced by a fine cast, says critic Wendy Rosenfield, especially the dynamic Lavit Shaurice as Antigone.



By Wendy Rosenfield


Quintessence Theatre Group's mission is to tangle with the classics, and this time, they tackle Jean Anouilh's wartime adaptation of Sophocles' Antigone. A response to Nazi occupation of France, the tragedy, as reimagined for a 20th-century audience, trades the wrath of the gods for existential dilemma, allowing man and woman to blunder about on their own, making terrible decisions for terrible reasons.

Antigone, you may recall, is the daughter of Oedipus and daughter/granddaughter of Jocasta, both dead. Antigone's uncle Creon claimed Thebes' throne in their wake, and her brothers, Eteocles and Polynices, killed each other on the battlefield. It's a bad scene, and doesn't get any better when Creon declares Polynices a traitor, refuses him a proper burial, and discovers Antigone burying him anyway. Anouilh's Creon is a bureaucrat, Antigone an impulsive kid with big ideas, and both confuse pride with sacrifice.

Anouilh, by way of Jeremy Sams' translation, has a sense of humor about the proceedings, most obviously in speeches by The Prologue, a fine John Williams, who serves as chorus with a louche, martini-swilling, Mack-the-Knife sheen. Director Alexander Burns adopts a presentational style, nodding at the play's classical roots, but taking on a Brechtian undertone throughout (Brecht also adapted the story, though after the war), with actors addressing the audience as often as each other. But this approach stiffens the action, making it more didactic, less imperative.

Luckily, Burns has a top-notch Antigone and Creon in Lavita Shaurice (a 2011 Barrymore nominee) and Robert Jason Jackson. Wiry Shaurice sports a forward-thrusting shock of hair as unruly as her spirit. When she's unsure, she twists her mouth to the side and widens her eyes like a child, balls her hands into fists when frustrated, raises her voice every chance she gets. Jackson, in turn, remains calm throughout, wielding his restraint like a weapon, and reasoning his way to doom with a true functionary's resolve.

As an aside, Burns' royal family is African American, and their subjects and soldiers - minus The Prologue, who operates independently, anyway - are white. I don't think this is a swipe at the Obamas, or that Creon is modeled on an African despot; if the family were white or cast for color-blindness, the choice wouldn't even garner attention. But it's worth a mention, if only because this is such a political piece and Burns, a careful director. Perhaps the real point is that there's never a shortage of oppressive regimes from which to draw parallels. Whether Theban, French, Syrian or Congolese, ethnicities are interchangeable; human nature remains the same.
Presented by Quintessence Theatre Group, Sedgwick Theatre, 7137 Germantown Ave., through March 25. Tickets: $15- $30. Information: 215-640-6055 or





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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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