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ANTIGONE

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Have the gods no mercy? None, in this tragedy of headstrong youth, rigid rules, and star-crossed lovers. We see here masterwork engendering masterwork—Sophocles' ancient tale sparked themes in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet with the tender maternal bond between Antigone and her garrulous nurse, the lovers' self-inflicted deaths within their tomb, the cave where Antigone is condemned to die a lingering, lonely death because the crazy girl won't stop trying to bury her slain brother. The New Torrance Theatre Ensemble's premiere performance, Antigone, is cause to celebrate, but we must accustom ourselves to pronunciation of the heroine's name as "Anty-gon." Director Francisca Bonita Beach says it is more Greek and right for this production.

A newcomer from Scotland's Royal Academy of Music & Drama, Beach knows what she is doing, and she is creative. Her Antigone is a fascinating palimpsest, through playwright Jean Anouilh's rich French adaptation of the Greek original, to a distinctive British translation, to some original additions—notably including the bold, in-your-face, street-wise gangster gals who deliver their take on things in rhythmic gangsta rap. The feral four are Maryam Abdelnaby, Sonya Borba, Toni Loppnow, and Cami Waldeck. They are wonderful. The brilliant concept, by the director and the play's choreographer/producer Gia Inferrera, is ably augmented by Steven Bartel's percussion.

As the heroic, headstrong Antigone, Ramla Frediani, tall and sylph-like, is beautiful as a white camellia. She delivers her lines beautifully, too, and powerfully. Antigone's reactions, though, need more depth and nuance—true as well of Hamilton Camp as King Creon, her steely-eyed, granite-faced uncle. While torn between duty to persecute and human desire to save his niece from a cruel death, Creon should curb his nervous prowling and pacing of Henry Moreta's nicely spare, marble-columned set. Christina Linhardt, Antigone's amusingly flighty flibbertigibbet sister Ismene, is pretty in her party dress. (It's a more or less modern-dress Antigone.) Sean McDonald is Antigone's betrothed and beloved Haemon, who chooses to perish with her and ensure his father Creon's heartbreak. Robyn Hastings is a well-spoken recurrent solo Chorus, Mary Kneipp a warm, comforting Nurse. Jane Borthwick is Creon's handsome, silent wife, Eurydice. Michael Heatheron and Obediah Thomas (he juggles lemons) are soldier guards. Marann Fengler, in fencer's mask, wheels in on roller-blades as final Messenger. Bonny 10-year-old Scott Camden, a Page at Creon's side, poignantly reminds us youth's grace is fleeting. Creon cautions, "Don't grow up." But he will.

Its French input of wry irony and practicality makes this version's tragedy less inevitable, ordained, more due to human wrong-headedness. (How long, Oh Lord, how long?) It's a creative, ambitious Antigone that augurs well for this new ensemble's future.

"Antigone," presented by the New Torrance Theatre Ensemble at the Torrance Cultural Arts Center, 3031 Torrance Blvd., Torrance. Thurs.-Sat. 8 p.m. Feb. 8-Feb. 17. $10-14. (310) 781-7171.

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