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The final production of University Theatre at N.C. State's 2003-04 season, Another Antigone by A.R. Gurney, is a timely drama of student-professor conflict set in 1983 on the campus of a fictional Massachusetts college. The show was an Off-Broadway success at Playwrights Horizons in 1988.
In reviewing the original production, the New York Post wrote, "Gurney is writing a play for our times, particularly our academic times." The New Yorker claimed, "A synopsis can only hint at the romantic strength and richness of this splendid play." Backstage declared, "[T]here is an abundance of meaty, stimulating dialogue, filled with the sly wit that has become [Gurney's] trademark." And The New York Times saluted the play's "witty observations from the front lines of those American universities now more preoccupied with fund raising and job placement than with the verities of a classical education."
Director Terri L. Janney recalls, "I first read Another Antigone back in 1997 while directing Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. After reading the play, I immediately thought of the Mike Roark and Becky Johnston, since I had just had a wonderful experience with them as Big Daddy and Big Momma in Cat. I had to wait for the perfect slot to put it in; and, by the time that happened, Mike had passed away. So, I put the play on hold until I found a special time slot for it and a special cast."
That special time slot is March 25-April 4 in N.C. State University's Thompson Theatre. That special cast includes Kate Isley as ambitious young college student Judy Miller; Rick Lonon as her professor, Henry Harper; and Catherine Rodgers as a school administrator named Diane. Ignoring his assignment to write about Sophocles (c. 497-406 B.C.), Miller instead creates modern version of the ancient Greek playwright's tragedy Antigone. Then she refuses his demand that she rewrite her paper; indeed, she demands an "A," whereas Harper struggles to justify giving her a "C."
There are other issues, too. According to preshow publicity, "Enrollment in the Greek classics course is down overall, and there is a little need for a professor where there are no students. And then there is the rumor of Harper's adverse dealing with particular students — with Jewish students. The idealistic Ms. Miller herself is Jewish, and when she hears of such treatment, her Antigone becomes a Jewish girl dealing with the past centuries of suffering."
So, not surprisingly, Diane finds herself drawn into this thorny student-professor conflict. Thanks to "hubris" (the Greek word for "pride"), neither professor nor student is willing to give an inch.
Janney says, "The conflict between student and professor has always captured my attention. The human dynamics of the relationship fascinate me. The power a professor holds over a student is so great and, for the most part, absolute.
"When a student rebels," she adds, "the conflict is immeasurable. Many times, the student has no recourse. However, as we see so currently in education, the students rights are being brought to the front of academia, which is running scared due to political and financial pressure. I wanted to do the play because it says many things about academia, history, and the current political situation in this country although written in the late 1980s."
Terri Janney adds, "Professor Harper (Rick Lonon) is old school. He lectures, expects attendance, and even corrects grammatical errors. Judy Miller (Kate Isley) is a bright young student who feels Professor Harper should allow her paper to be submitted in lieu of one on a required and approved topic. His refusal begins a change of events from which even his Dean (Catherine Rodgers) cannot protect him. Judy's crusade to fulfill his requirement with her modern Antigone causes a rift between her and her boyfriend Dave (Francis Sarnie IV) ,who tried to mediate this collision course. In the end, Professor Harper must exile himself as his beloved Greek Creon did in Antigone and Judy metaphorically hangs herself."
Staging Another Antigone is another challenge that director Terri Janney relishes. Janney, who doubles as the show's lighting designer, will be ably assisted by set designer and assistant technical director David Jensen, who is designing his first set for UT, and costumer designer Ida Bostian, who is designing her last production for UT.
"Staging is always interesting when there are many scenes in different places," claims Terri Janney. "This play has 15 scenes — many short. The scenic designer had to create playing areas which would allow for unit scenes while having a simultaneous office scene. The lighting designer had to be able to isolate areas and create moods with inside/outside settings, and the costumer had to follow the characters through the season."
Janney says the show's set is "a series of platforms, with the back platform following the tradition Greek columns, and the office platform is raked. While the office platform is in wood tones, the rest of the steps and platforms are marbled.
"The lighting tries to emphasize the actors within the scenes, as opposed to isolating [them]," she adds, "and leads the actors from one area of the stage to another. The costumes are modern and follow the seasons from Winter to Spring indoor and out."
Now that she has found the right time slot and the right cast, Terri Janney is unusually excited about UT's season-ender: "It is a wonderful clash between professor/student, Greek/Jew, authority/rebel, man/woman — 'the private conscience versus the communal obligation,'" she says.
University Theatre at N.C. State presents Another Antigone Thursday-Saturday, March 25-27, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, March 28, at 3 p.m.; Wednesday-Saturday, March 31-April 3, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, April 4, at 3 p.m. in Thompson Theatre at N.C. State University. $14 ($6 for NCSU students and $12 seniors, students, NCSU faculty and staff, and members of the N.C. State Alumni Association). 919/515-1100. University Theatre: http://www.ncsu.edu/theatre/anotherantigone.htm.