They all have a million secrets. What’s so bad about this one? The St. Catherine’s drama club is struggling to put up its first school play – Sophocles’ “Antigone.” As if staging this tragedy in an all-girls Catholic school isn’t challenging enough, the cast’s beloved director ends up betraying them in an unforgivable way — and it’s almost opening night! The cast must figure out the right course of action, all while rehearsing a classic play about impossibly difficult choices. What is the right thing to do? And must the show go on?
Antigone, Presented By The Girls Of St. Catherine’s came with much eager anticipation. Presented by Sacred Fools (which put up a fantastic world premiere production of Gifted), written by Madhuri Shekar, and directed by Reena Dutt (who knocked it out of the park with her previously directed play Defenders), did the play met my expectation? More after the jump below:
Right off the bat, Antigone, Presented By The Girls Of St. Catherine’s is a play that is extremely topical in the ongoing #MeToo movement. It involves an incredibly misguided drama teacher in an all-girls Catholic boarding school who is romantically involved with a high schooler while her friends try to navigate and figure out what to do with this situation. And if that wasn’t difficult enough, this all happens while they are trying to put on Sophocles’ Antigone with minimal preparation and time.
In terms of acting, the play largely succeeds in delivering captivating performances with the actresses portraying 15-17 year-olds to various degrees of success. In terms of directing, Dutt delivers an assured hand with bringing out vivid and bold performances from the actors and a fully realized world with minimal stage design and props, albeit with a tiny bit of pacing issues found throughout the play. But, in terms of writing, I was left scratching my head in terms of what the message and intent was by the time the play ends. Without a doubt, Shekar excels in writing fantastic banter, wit, and humor for all the characters and creating a world that had all the setups fantastically built in. But the payoff was lacking, especially with the damning information we are given about the drama teacher.
Madeleine Hernandez is our lead as Greta for this play with Emma Mercier playing her best friend, Marilyn, who gets caught up in a relationship with their drama teacher (played by Luis Fernandez-Gil). As an actor and in terms of performance, Hernandez is an absolute knockout when it comes to delivering angst, neurosis, and fidgety teenage awkwardness that oozes out of her with whatever she does and says. As the lead, it came off perhaps TOO angsty and neurotic at times and thus her character did not seem so quite relatable for the audience to root for. There is no doubt her arc is dealing with the horror of learning her best friend’s extremely troubling romantic relationship but it came off as perhaps too uneasy for my liking as it needed more self deprecating humor to balance it.
Mercier’s Marilyn serves as the foil for the nervous Greta and the one who propels the story forward in the conflict it creates not only for their friendship but for all the girls involved in the play itself. To make this work, you need an actress with a great depth of emotion, conflict, and flat out puppy dog love sickness, and Mercier came through in a tremendous way with some truly fantastic monologues that goes through all the stages. My only criticism is that I never really believed she was a high school student as she carried herself off as a college sorority girl by the end of the play.
Jessica Ma plays Tamsin, Greta’s roommate, who is no doubt the punk rebellious girl out of the group that one usually finds in coming of age high school comedies/dramas. Except this is perhaps the grossest and looniest high school punk/goth girl I’ve ever seen in a production/TV show/film and much credit needs to be given to Ma for pushing that far and just going for it. There were a few moments where she was muscling it a bit too much to show how nasty or rebellious she was but after the second half where she develops her friendship with Greta more, Ma eased into the role without needing to do so much. Nevertheless, I commend the audacity of it.
Perhaps where Shekar’s writing popped out most was during a certain fantasy sequence featuring Scarlet Sheppard as Type-A do-gooder student, Susan. Reminiscent to that of Reese Witherspoon’s in Election but without the manipulating aspect, Susan is constantly trying to do the right thing for everyone. Throughout the play, I had a great time identifying with her as someone struggling to do what is right and what is convenient for the school in her leadership position. She never overdoes her Type-A character aspect and even in the most distraught and conflicting moments, she does her best to maintain it to fantastic degree. You clearly can see the struggle within Scarlet’s face and that conflict is so fun to see in terms of performance.
Jenny Griffin and Chloe Wray Gonzalez are Anna and Lily, respectively, the hilarious class clowns for this play, with a most exuberant emphasis on clown for Griffin, who perhaps delivers a tour-de-force performance in the Tasmanian-hyperactive energy she whirls out in the character of Anna. Whenever pacing dragged a bit or the writing sometimes meandered, Griffin brought the energy right back up every time she came on. It requires a considerable amount of talent to be so utterly maniacal and not lose the audience’s attention and Griffin is a true example of sitcom genius at its peak. Out of all the actors, she was the most believable portraying a teenager.
Gonzalez perhaps had the challenging part of competing with her crazy bestie, but she holds her own as the “I’m, like, so hot~” Lily. She, like Mercier, exuded a bit too much college/early 20s energy as opposed to playing a high schooler, but that was about it. I do think Gonzalez can amp up the fabulous diva aspect to match not only Griffin, but also completely fulfill and own the clown elements. But, that is probably just a personal preference as it may be too much to have two ridiculous clowns paired together, especially one of the clowns is a whirlwind like Griffin.
Finally, we have Fernandez-Gil as Mr. Reed who is perhaps the most problematic character of the play. While he is written by design to be obviously problematic in nature due to his relationship with Marilyn, the problematic aspect is pinpointing what his role and purpose is in the play as he’s not quite the antagonist due to the way he doesn’t pose any other kind of obstacle other than his affair, which may not have been his first.
While I understand and appreciate the decision that the villain does not need to twirl his mustache and have epic sinister laughs, there was never a clear sense of conflict and momentum that the teacher brings. For sure the conflict is presented in Greta and everyone else’s horror of their beloved teacher being a creep, but it never quite lifts off and thus the play suffers for that. In terms of performance, Fernandez-Gil gives a wonderful exuberance and naivety to the role but there was trouble understanding a good portion of his dialogue as, unfortunately, his amazing natural accent interfered with diction especially in his most excited moments.
Overall, I enjoyed the play but was left wanting by the end. I was thoroughly entertained by the humor and banter from the characters but ultimately was left a bit disappointed by the story’s payoff and structure.
MARCH 6 – APRIL 11, 2020
Fridays & Saturdays @ 8pm
Sunday Matinees 3/22, 3/29 & 4/5 @ 3pm
Monday, March 30 @ 8pm
Sacred Fools Gives Back: DWYC Performance: Friday, March 13 at 8pm
It’s “Pay What You Can” with a twist! Half of all proceeds for this performance will be donated Five Acres, which “partners with private health care organizations across Southern California to provide access to intensive services for children with the goal of maintaining them safely in their own home and community.” Since 2013, Sacred Fools has held a DWYC performance for each mainstage show, partnering with close to 20 different organizations, raising over $6,000 for worthy causes.
Special Performance: Monday, March 30 at 8pm
Continuing at Sacred Fools for the four Prime shows of the season is the tradition of having a special Monday night performance to give other theatre artists performing and working on shows Friday through Sunday the opportunity to see the show.
All tickets are $15 and can be purchased at http://tickets.sacredfools.org. Reservations can be made by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org