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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

(Not So) Random Thoughts about "Caesar"

From a Sound Ninja:

I've seen Julius Caesar about 10 times in the past month. And there are aspects to the story and the way it's told that are kind of noteworthy to me. So this is a list, with no priority, of thoughts I've had about the show:

I'm fascinated by the infirmities that several of the main characters have. Caesar is deaf in his left ear and has epilepsy. Cassius can't see very well - his sight has been "ever thick" and Calpurnia is barren. Portia's a cutter. What's up with Brutus? We never hear anything about a physical or mental infirmity. Hmmm. Does that mean something. These characters of history/myth made humbly human by physical weakness. That's cool. And ironic when you consider the power they are attempting to create around themselves.

When Cassius and Brutus have their breakup/makeup fight one of the key points seems to be that Brutus sent to Cassius asking for gold to pay his troops. But Cassius refused to give it to him. When Brutus brings this up Cassius replies that it was a "fool that brought [his] reply". Implying that his actual message was "sure, or yeah, eventually I'll get you some gold." How crappy of a messenger do you have to be to turn that into a "no, no gold for you." It's also surprising how easily Brutus accepts that as a possible miscommunication. Sure, that happens all the time. Maybe it does.

Maybe being a messenger for the nobles is really hard. Mark Antony's messenger has a lot of careful things to say when he goes to the Senate to ask for audience with the murderers of Caesar. He must have been a better messenger than Cassius's guy. Bet when you found someone who could really say your thoughts you tried to hold on to them. But how would you know? You'd never be there to hear them tell it. And how hard would it be not to embroider on a message when you were the messenger?

The mirror kneeling of Portia and Calpurnia in scenes with their husbands is interesting. Does it mean something or did Shakespeare just get lazy?

I love the relationship between Cassius and Brutus. Early on I thought Cassius was a villain, scheming to get Brutus to agree to his plans. But now I see that's not the case. I suspect Brutus is using Cassius to further his own instincts, although I doubt he would admit to it. Cassius is constantly overruled by Brutus, often in cases where Cassius is actually right on. He's like the Cassandra of this story - able to see the truth but not able to sway the powerful to his vision. He's more like Brutus's little brother. I love how he doesn't stop trying. And he's always ready to die. At least 3 times he bares his chest to his own dagger. Maybe it's four.

You know who scares me in this story? Mark Antony. In the first act he seems so sympathetic, understandably enraged by the cold-blooded murder of his friend Caesar. But the way he twists the crowd in the second act to mutiny and then revels in the monster he has created gives you a whole different side of his character. And he seems to glory in the cruelty and meanness of his new role as Caesar's revenger.

Mark Antony's funeral speech reminds me a lot of the speech Nixon had to give when he was VP(or running for the office). It was a televised speech that was meant to answer doubts as to his reliability and honesty as a politician. Point is, I watched it in speech class and I remember my professor pointing out two things that Nixon did which made a big difference in getting the audience to react sympathetically: 1) he showed a folded piece of paper that he said was an audit of his finances by a reputable, independent accounting firm; and 2) he made it clear that his wife wore a cloth coat, not a fur coat. The key is that the "audit" could not be confirmed by the watching public. The paper could have been anything. Antony uses the will of Caesar in a similar way. Same thing with the cloth coat - meant to put Nixon on the level of "just folks, you can trust me, I'm like you." Antony does the same with phrases like "I only speak right on": I'm no orator, he says, you can trust me not to twist you. Best example of early spin-doctoring I've seen.

I have really enjoyed watching this show become what it is. Following it through rehearsal into performance. It's been such a pleasure seeing how the cast transforms mouthfuls of words into relationships, shot through with menace, desperation and desire.

Flatwater Shakespeare Company's Julius Caesar

Swan Theatre, Wyuka Cemetery, 3600 O Street in Lincoln

7:30 Thursday through Sunday, September 24-27

Tickets: $18, $15 seniors, $10 students

Call 473-2897 for reservations

Artist: Elisabetta Sirani (Italy, 17th-century), Portia Wounding Her Thigh

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

One More Show for Flatwater Youth's "Julius Caesar"

These are very good actors doing very good work -- individually and collectively -- with Shakespeare.

Director Tom Crew has elicited rich, complex performances from his ensemble.

Andrew DeCamp's Brutus is vulnerable in his nobility. Noemi Berkowitz's Cassius is passionate in her thinking as well as her emotions. Jackson Fisher's Antony grows admirable even as he becomes more ruthless as a politician. Reed Baillie is impressively imperious as Caesar.

Emma Gruhl is compellingly poignant as both Portia and Titinius. Marie Wathen's Octavius is already Antony's most challenging rival, not only his ally. Prestyn Hartman does a hilarious turn as Casca. Annaliese Saathoff conveys touching devotion as Calpurnia and as Messala. Sadie Fisher's Lucius deserves the role's treatment as a central character in this version.

Matty Merritt, Mary Marsolek, Eli Diamant, Dillon Kirby, and Chloe Nore convincingly portray a wide variety of roles as, basically, the entire population of Rome.

Support the Flatwater Shakespeare Youth program by attending its production of

William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar

Wednesday, 7:30 p.m., at the Swan Theatre at Wyuka

3600 "O" Street in Lincoln

Tickets: $8

Photos: Jackson Fisher as Antony; Emma Gruhl as Titinius; Reed Baillie as Julius Caesar; Sadie Fisher as Lucius in Flatwater Shakespeare Youth production of Julius Caesar.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Julius Caesar Comics

As composed by one of our extraordinary Sound Ninjas, Dorothy Booraem!

Last Weekend for Flatwater Shakespeare's Julius Caesar -- this Thursday through Sunday, 7:30 p.m., at the Swan Theatre at Wyuka. Call 473-2897 for tickets!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Flatwater Youth Presents "Julius Caesar"

Come see the Flatwater Shakespeare Youth production of
Julius Caesar
Shows are 7:30 p.m. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday
September 21, 22, and 23
at the Swan Theatre at Wyuka, 3600 “O” Street in Lincoln.
Tickets: $8.

Taking over the main production’s set, bringing a lightly edited script to life, making full use of Shakespeare’s words and their own talents, young actors offer a compelling take on this tragedy of politics, loyalty, and deception. This is a great show!

Ensemble: Reed Baillie, Noemi Berkowitz, Andrew DeCamp, Eli Diamant, Jackson Fisher, Sadie Fisher, Emma Gruhl, Prestyn Hartman, Dillon Kirby, Mary Marsolek, Matty Merritt, Chloe Nore, Annaliese Saathoff, and Marie Wathen.

Creative Team: Tom Crew, Director. Paden Alexander, Stage Manager. Stephen Buhler, Adapter.

Photo: Noemi Berkowitz as Cassius, Matty Merritt as Lucillius, Andrew DeCamp as Brutus in the Flatwater Shakespeare Youth production of Julius Caesar.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Audience Comments for "Julius Caesar"

Loved it, loved it, loved it! Great choices all around – setting, staging, and especially casting. Nate Weiss as Cassius, in particular, was spot-on. I thoroughly enjoyed the show.

Brad Boesen was wonderful as Brutus. Very powerful!

kudos to all . . . another great job by all!!

What a terrific show! Really strong cast and most effective staging. We’ve always enjoyed your productions but this one stands out as one of the very best. We are telling everyone we know to head south to Lincoln to catch the best Shakespeare in these parts this season . . . Thanks and ever thanks!

Two More Weekends to See
The Flatwater Shakespeare Company Production of
William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar

Directed by Bob Hall

Swan Theatre, Wyuka Cemetery, 3600 O Street in Lincoln

7:30 Tonight through Sunday, September 17-20
also next Thursday – Sunday, September 24-27

Tickets: $18, $15 seniors, $10 students; Call 473-2897

Saturday, September 12, 2009

When Comes Such Another?

Star City Blog Review of Flatwater’s Julius Caesar
by Sarah F. Sullivan, September 11, 2009.

Flatwater Shakespeare is closing out its fifth season with William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, and what a strong end to an equally strong season. Directed by Bob Hall, Shakespeare’s classic play about envy and loyalty amidst the political spectrum of Rome unfolded smoothly in The Swan Theatre at Wyuka beneath a cool September sky.

The play revolves around Caesar and the men he calls friends, who later kill him out of envy and fear that he will destroy Rome with his “ambition.” All but Brutus, who does everything for the benefit of Rome, have their own interests at heart. Hoping to put an end to Caesar’s inevitable tyranny by murdering him, the conspirators destroy the peace they had hoped to bring forth with the murder.

Gone were the stereotypical robes and costumes of Shakespeare, which were replaced by sharp black suits, fedoras and, eventually, military fatigues and berets. Adapting a Shakespeare play for a modern setting is a difficult undertaking, one that has both triumphed (Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film Romeo + Juliet) and failed abysmally (Hamlet, 2000, featuring Ethan Hawke). While both movies place Shakespeare in the year in which they were filmed, Hall’s Julius Caesar has an ageless air about it, seemingly drawing elements from many time periods.

Though Caesar is only present for the first half of the play, Dick Nielsen delivers with intense strength -- a necessity for Caesar to remain at the forefront of everyone’s minds as the play goes forward.

Despite the play being called Julius Caesar, it is the characters of Mark Antony, Cassius and Brutus that carry it to its fruition and the actors do so with passion and depth. Nathan Weiss as conspirator Cassius plays his part with a fiery flourish, exemplifying Caesar’s words, “Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look” (Julius Caesar, Act 1, Scene 2). While he delivers his lines with ease and believable rancor, Weiss is also able to tone down and dispense concern and kindness as well.

Mark Antony rises from being Caesar’s right hand man to show his true colors as an adept politician, willing and able to turn people to his side by tailoring his words to suit his various audiences. By the time Rob Burt (Mark Antony) comes to the forefront (not until the middle of the play), he gives an exciting and passionate performance that will likely surprise the audience.

Brad Boesen as conspirator Brutus truly shines. The part of Brutus is a tricky one, as we see the fine line he walks between justification for the good of Rome and the guilt of betrayal. The intimacy of the Swan Theater was perfectly suited to Boesen’s performance, as the reflective and tortured elements he brings to his character would be lost in a larger performance space.

The Swan Theatre at Wyuka Cemetery is without a doubt one of the most unique theatre spaces in Lincoln. The close quarters and ever visible night sky only enhanced the mood of Julius Caesar, providing an eerie setting for the devious plotting and betrayal onstage. The set, the costumes, the actors and of course, Shakespeare’s play, all combine together to create a truly mesmerizing night of theatre.

Flatwater Shakespeare Company's Julius Caesar

Directed by Bob Hall

Swan Theatre, Wyuka Cemetery, 3600 O Street in Lincoln

7:30 tonight and Sunday,
also Thursdays-Sundays September 17-20 and 24-27

Tickets: $18, $15 seniors, $10 students; Call 473-2897

Photo: Rob Burt as Antony in Flatwater Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. Photo by John Nollendorfs.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Praising "Caesar"

Review from the Lincoln Journal Star, September 11, 2009

The corrosive moral destructive power of ambition, envy, and corruption, set in a political arena, is the thrust of the Flatwater Shakespeare production of William Shakespeare’s "Julius Caesar."

The 2 1/4-hour drama explores the motivations behind, and repercussions of, the assassination of the arrogant Caesar.

While the character of Caesar (Dick Nielsen) is the catalyst for the play’s action, the role itself is not the major element.

It is around the conspirators Brutus (Brad Boesen) and Cassius (Nathan Weiss), as well as the loyal-to-Caesar Mark Antony (Rob Burt), that the show revolves.

Director Bob Hall has schooled his cast with discipline so that the tempo of the drama is played out with patience and perspective, ultimately allowing for appropriate climactic peaks of intensity.

Brutus -- Caesar’s friend -- is convinced by an envious and covetous Cassius that Caesar’s ambition is boundless and that for the sanctity of Rome, Caesar must be killed.

Boesen’s portrayal of Brutus is one couched in intense character concentration, with the actor displaying a wealth of reflective analysis as Brutus is slowly convinced of the need to eliminate Caesar.

His facial nuances are marvelously exhibited as he is drawn into the conspiracy.

Cassius’ choler and anger toward Caesar is almost brutally conveyed by Weiss, yet the actor also has the proficiency to display the necessary compassion.

Burt’s performance peaks with his intense delivery of Antony’s "Friends, Romans, Countrymen" speech.

Hall and costumer Kat Cover use stark black-and-white contemporary garb.

Hall also pays homage to William Morgan’s classic late-1960s Lincoln production of "Julius Caesar" by outfitting Antony in military fatigues for his eulogy of Caesar.

"Julius Caesar" is a difficult production to execute properly, but the Flatwater effort is certainly one worthy of seeing.

What: "Julius Caesar," Flatwater Shakespeare Company

Where: Swan Theatre, Wyuka Cemetery, 3600 O St., in Lincoln

When: 7:30 tonight through Sunday, also September 17-20 and 24-27

Tickets: $18, $15 seniors, $10 students

Call: 473-2897

Photo: Rob Burt as Antony and Nathan Weiss as Cassius in Flatwater Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. Photo by John Nollendorfs.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

How Many Ages Hence / Shall This Our Lofty Scene Be Acted Over

A play about power and loyalty.

A play about secrecy and sharing.

A play about principle and impulse.

A play about high aspirations and crass motives.

A play about betrayal and friendship.

All politics are personal here.

Come see the Flatwater Shakespeare Company production of William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, under the stars at the Swan at Wyuka, starting Thursday, September 10.

The show is directed by Bob Hall and features Brad Boesen as Brutus, Nathan Weiss as Cassius, Rob Burt as Antony, and Dick Nielsen as Julius Caesar.

William Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar"

Dates: September 10-13, 17-20, 24-27

Time: 7:30 p.m.

Place: The Swan Theatre at Wyuka, 3600 "O" St. Lincoln

Tickets: (402) 473-2897

$18 Adults; $15 Seniors; $10 Students

Photo: Brad Boesen as Brutus and Dick Nielsen as Caesar in Flatwater Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. Photo by John Nollendorfs.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Masters of Their Fates?

By the final decades of the Roman Republic, the aristocrats who traditionally made up the ruling class were calling themselves optimates (the best men) and boni (the good men). These terms implied a moral or social superiority over those of lower class who had gradually gained a partial stake in the operations of government.

With the rise, however, of the equites (cavalrymen or “knights”) as a political force, claims of superiority for the senatorial optimates were undercut. From then on more ambitious politicians were prepared to use the people rather than the senate as a political base.

The self-proclaimed populares (men of the people) often used citizen assemblies to ensure passage of their and argued for extension of voting rights, relief of poverty, and reform of agrarian laws.

Their optimate opponents dismissed the populares as dangerous demagogues who aimed at ending any representative government and imposing tyranny in its place.

Indeed, politicians could use populares methods to gain optimates ends. Several aristocrats in the age of Caesar and Cicero eagerly used the power of the people to manipulate the system, not to improve it.

These were not organized political parties in the modern sense, but rather factions: groups of politicians usually gathered around an unofficial leader with aims that often shifted in the face of changing conditions. A member of one faction could easily transfer himself to another, or a faction as a whole could adopt measures it previously opposed.

In Julius Caesar, Shakespeare invites us to decide how much Caesar is either a populist or a tyrant, how much Cassius and the other conspirators love liberty or seek to reserve power only for themselves.

The Flatwater Shakespeare Company presents the tragedy of Julius Caesar in the open-air Swan Theatre at Wyuka Cemetery and Park, 3600 O Street in Lincoln, beginning Thursday, September 10, at 7:30 p.m. Performances continue Friday - Sunday, September 11-13; and Thursdays - Sundays, September 17-20 and 24-27. Tickets: (402) 473-2897; $18 Adults; $15 Seniors; $10 Students.

(Historical information adapted from The Oxford Classical Dictionary, 2nd ed. [Clarendon P, 1970].)

Photo: Rob Burt as Antony, Brad Boesen as Brutus, Dick Nielsen as Caesar, and Nathan Weiss as Cassius in Flatwater Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. Photo by John Nollendorfs.