This is the story of a Greek classics university student who submits an anti-nuclear themed adaptation of Sophocles' "Antigone" instead of a formal paper to her professor in the hopes of attaining his blessing and a high grade.
The momentum of the play from first word to last is considerable indeed.
In-between we, the audience, find the meaning and purpose for just about every work of art, whether written or not, tragedy or not, ever created in the Western world.
Gurney leaves no empty pages in the typewriter or computer.
The characters and language, though seemingly tame, tear and rail at our perceptions of what tragedy and drama are, but mostly, who we as a society and civilization have allowed ourselves to become.
All is not well in this brilliant depiction of individual versus system, but is even worse in-between the lines.
The language bites like a rabid pit bull as four lives are completely upended and turned around.
Words flow like strident rivers and characters absorb and learn from each other like tributaries.
All the while a dichotomy between the action in the play and that in "Antigone" keeps us not only abreast of each character's deeply felt motivation, but the production's very real connection to today's current events.
Be it race, religion or creed, Gurney does not avoid or shy away from the ramifications or consequences of his choices as a playwright.
Linda Alznauer's direction is purposeful, spotless, energetic and on point. Her actors display a vivid understanding of not merely their own characters but the depth and width of the playwright's reach.
Alznauer, who chose this, the first play to be produced Upstairs at the Group Rep, almost accidentally from an anthology of plays, exhibits the emotional depth and maturity to comprehend the siren's song or message in this play.
Her direction is nothing short of brilliant and wonderfully substantive.
The USC film school graduate assembles a talented cast that even ancient Greece would admire.
Standouts include: Louis Schneider (Dave) who gives a fiercely naturalistic and convincing turn. The Ohio native's portrayal flows with that of the play. Schneider is sensitive and committed throughout.
Debi Tinsley (Diana) almost runs away with the play in a performance at once determined yet emotionally naked. The Webster University and American Academy of Dramatic Arts graduate adds a confidence and vulnerability to the role. It seems as if Tinsley is not acting, but talking to us in her living room.
The Los Angeles theatre veteran is as charming and affable as she is authentic.
But it is Doug Haverty (Henry) who steals the show with a turn as unforgettable as the production itself. Haverty does not miss a beat in a performance both parts inspired and educated.
The Group Repertory Theatre veteran hits every mark with precision, sincerity and dogged perseverance.
His is a unique and wonderful stage presence that is at once magnetic and mesmerizing, bold and bountiful. One cannot take his or her eyes off of him.
This critic has seen Haverty in a number of Group Repertory Theatre productions, and this is, by far, his finest achievement.
I hope to see Haverty on local stages again soon.
Adding to the message of the play are Diana Martin's set and costume design, Bob McCollum and J. Kent Inasy's lighting design and Steve Shaw's formidable sound design.
"Another Antigone" succeeds because through it all it allows us a chance to look in the mirror at ourselves for better or worse.
In dazzling, simple and electric language, it explains the nature of tragedy and our role in it.
The play defines tragedy as possessing no freedom of choice, merely being what it is meant to be. Existing without borders or boundaries.
The hero, Gurney seems to be saying, is the one who accepts his or her fate, and perhaps, as in the case of Creon in "Antigone," acts on it.
This production, then, works, not because it chooses to work, but because it can find no other option than to work. It underscores salient words spoken by a stellar cast and directed by a still and supple soul.
Somewhat like tragedy, it was meant and fated to be enlightening, illuminating and entertaining.
This is a seminal moment for this stalwart repertory company as it adds productions on the top floor of its Burbank Boulevard building to an already impressive resume of main stage plays under the guidance of co-Artistic Directors Larry Eisenberg and Chris Winfield over the last few years.
What was once nothing more than seemingly another community theatre is now one of the most imaginative, impressive and innovative repertory companies in the city.
Adding productions on the second floor in conjunction with main stage plays will do nothing but intensify the vision and leadership these two theatrical mavericks have demonstrated since taking over the reins.
One only hopes the future finds this repertory ensemble with even more theatrical avenues and boulevards to circumvent on its way to reinventing and reimagining its purpose while staying true to the words of founder Lonny Chapman all those years ago.
Now, there's a dichotomy that would make even Sophocles proud.
Upstairs at the Group Rep
Dates and Times:
Saturdays at 2 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m.
EXTENDED through February 21!
General Admission: $20. Seniors/Students with ID: $17. Groups 10+: $15.
Lonny Chapman Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd.,
North Hollywood, CA 91601
Free street and side street parking.