Student and teacher dazzle in "Antigone"

Posted Online: March 27, 2013, 9:50 am
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By Jonathan Turner,
Gini Atwell is a Rockridge High School senior and Jake Walker is her drama director and band director. But in Prenzie Players' gripping production of "Antigone," the student and teacher are intense, powerful equals -- the irresistible force meeting the immovable object.

Ms. Atwell embodies the stubborn, rebellious title role in Jean Anouilh's "Antigone," the moving 1942 adaptation of the 2,500-year-old Greek tragedy by Sophocles. And Mr. Walker is the ruthless rock of a king, her uncle Creon, and the two face off in a titanic clash of wills, with life-and-death consequences.

Antigone's older brothers have been killed in acivil war -- one is considered a hero and given a ceremonial burial, where Polynices was a "traitor" and his corpse is left in the street to rot. Creon has executed anyone who is a threat to the state, and Antigone -- the daughter of Oedipus -- faces a similar fate if she makes good on her wish to give Polynices a proper burial (so his soul does not wander the earth forever).

In this version, we can relate to the motivations behind the main characters; they're not black and white good versus evil. Antigone didn't even like her mean brothers, but they were family and she feels it's her moral obligation, so they are not unburied and unmourned.

Creon -- who is not a power-hungry, ambitious ruler, but it just trying to keep order and do an unromantic job -- claims she gets her willful, stubborn pride from her father. We know how that turned out.Creon at first wants to save her but she refuses, saying, "What a person can do, a person ought to do."

Mr. Walker is very self-assured, threatening and lecturing in protracted arguments with Ms. Atwell. "Antigone" still does not feel long or drawn-out. The show is a fleet, meticulous 110 minutes with no intermission.

It helps greatly that the personable Aaron Sullivan is the accessible, even-handed narrator, who takes the place of the traditional Greek chorus of the original -- introducing characters, plot points and the themes of the story, even interacting with Creon at some points. It's a very helpful dramatic device.

Mr. Sullivancomments during the show on how tragedy differs from drama. Drama is not as inevitable and pre-ordained as the inexorable march of tragedy, which is neat and wound-up tight, with everyone playing prescribed roles, "a well-oiled machine." In drama, the narrator says, there's always the chance for unpredictability, surprise -- a dramatic shift, if you will.

I also really like the intimacy in this production at Q-C Theatre Workshop, ably directed by Catie Osborn. There is no raised stage, but theaudience surrounds the action on three sides, and the cast of just 10 is up close and personal. Actors in smaller roles are equally strong (the thankless part of Eurydice has no lines).

Thenurse/grandmother (Dee Canfield) is appropriately worried and comforting; Antigone is jealous of her sister Ismene, an innocent, beautiful blonde, passionately played by Abby VanGerpen. William Scott Bray is great as the idealistic, ardent boyfriend of Antigone, and Andy Koski is a standout as themain guard who gets in trouble for letting Antigone start to bury her brother. He is scared and nervous in scenes with Creon, a very human, sympathetic character. Nine-year-old Brody Ford is cute as Creon's page.

Mr. Walker directed Ms. Osborn in Prenzie's "Titus Andronicus" last March, and is drama director at Rockridge, where he's also the band director. He set a terrific example during "Titus," Ms. Osborn recently said -- "very receptive to other people's ideas, very open, very honest, very focused, very driven. Those are all things I respect of any director. The cool thing about Prenzie is, everyone has a valid thing to say."

Ms. Atwell has been directed in school by Mr. Walker (including her new role as the wicked witch in "Wizard of Oz," which will be performed in early May). She also plays flute in the band.

"It's been really cool to work with one of my students in a capacity outside of school," Mr. Walker said. "She's doing a great job. Here we're just fellow actors, on the same level. It's been really cool. It's been a lot of fun, especially since our characters have such an adversarial relationship in this show.

"It was almost weird for a little bit. I kind of got used to it; you get over the school and theater thing, just have to separate them," Ms. Atwell said. "I'm learning a lot from a lot of different people."

She also understands Antigone's dilemma. "She does what she thinks is morally right, but may not be what is legally right," she said. That act is appropriate "as long as you're not hurting anyone else, as long as you believe it is morally right," Ms. Atwell said.

If you go

-- What: Prenzie Players' "Antigone"
-- When: 8 p.m. tonight through Saturday.
-- Where: Quad City Theatre Workshop, 1730 Wilkes Ave., Davenport.
-- Tickets: $10, available at the door,, or 309-278-8426. For more information, visit


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