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NC Shakespeare Festival: Ambition Runs Amok in Modern-Dress Production of William Shakespeare's Tragedy Julius CaesarAs You Like It, Romance Is Afoot at Court and in the Forest of Arden

& Preview: North Carolina Shakespeare Festival: In Its First Raleigh Residency, the NCSF Will Perform Shakespeare's Julius Caesar and As You Like It

October 6, 2005 - Raleigh, NC:


Ambition runs amok in the North Carolina Shakespeare Festival’s modern-dress presentation of English playwright William Shakespeare’s timeless tragedy Julius Caesar, playing again at 8 p.m. tomorrow night in the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts in Raleigh, NC. First performed in 1599, Julius Caesar is Exhibit One in proof of the old adage that “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Take the title character … please. Roman general Julius Caesar (100-44 BC) had phenomenal success on the battlefield, vanquishing Rome’s enemies, expanding the territories of the Republic, and triumphing over his former friend and rival Pompey in the civil war that ended shortly before this play’s curtain goes up. Caesar parlayed these military triumphs into a series of increasingly more powerful political positions. His equally ambitious rivals, who thought Caesar intended to do away with the Senate and the Republic and declare himself king, combined forces to assassinate him on the famous, bloody Ides of March (i.e., March 15, 44 BC), precipitating a second civil war that the assassins lost.

Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar condenses all those bloody chapters of ancient Roman history into five acts. The current North Carolina Shakespeare Festival presentation, under the direction of Henson Keys, condenses this sprawling drama even further, presenting it in two acts, and adds a frisson of modernity by dressing Caesar as a 20th century dictator a la Italian fascist Benito Mussolini or a South American strongman such as Juan Peron and outfitting Shakespeare’s ancient Romans in contemporary duds, with the soldiers wearing Operation Desert Storm-style camouflage fatigues and carrying rifles.

Costume designer Laura Simcox has done a bang-up job in clothing the cast in a striking array of mid-to-late 20th century fashions apparently inspired by everything from the black-shirts of Il Duce (Mussolini) to Darth Vader’s minions in the Star Wars movies. The problem is, there are too many dark uniforms; and that makes it difficult recognize whose side the combatants are on.

Scenic designer Jennifer O’Kelly’s magnificent multilevel set depicts the soaring columns and awe-inspiring two-story facade of an ancient Roman architectural wonder, and lighting designer Todd Wren keeps the spotlight right where it should be in the succession of scenes that retell the events preceding and following Caesar’s murder.

The grandeur that was Rome is there onstage, and director Henson Keys and fight choreographer Kyle Payne set a brisk pace. The problem is, all those eye-catching costumes and all that rushing around somehow dilute the dramatic intensity of the play. Indeed, the grandeur that was Julius Caesar is largely absent from this NCSF production.

Roly-poly Guiesseppe Jones plays Julius Caesar like a churlish tinhorn dictator intent on taking over some 20th-century banana republic. (That makes Caesar’s famous aside about the thinness Cassius and the other conspirators an unintentional source of mirth.)

Caesar’s wife Calpurnia (Cynthia Barrett) barely registers. Moreover, by depicting the famous Soothsayer (Holly Fain) as a bag lady, and repeatedly inserting her in important scenes throughout the evening, director Henson Keys undercuts the importance of the Soothsayer’s fateful warning to mighty Caesar to “Beware the Ides of March.” It is much easier for Caesar to dismiss out of hand the ravings of a schizophrenic street person than to ignore the auguries of a holy (wo)man.

Neither Brandon J. Dirden’s Brutus nor David Foubert’s Cassius is particularly memorable. Dirden’s Brutus always seems on the verge of succumbing to his surging emotions, and Foubert’s Cassius is a caricature of a Machiavellian master manipulator.

Regan Thompson fares much better as Portia, Brutus’ deeply concerned wife who is increasingly alarmed by the dangerous company that Brutus keeps; Allan Edwards is good as Casca; and Adam Sheaffer, who plays Caesar’s friend and eulogist and avenger Marc Antony, proves to be the noblest Roman of them all at least in this production.

The North Carolina Shakespeare Festival presents Julius Caesar Friday, Oct. 7, at 8 p.m. in the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 1 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $28 ($20 students under 21 and seniors 62+). Progress Energy Center Box Office: 919/831-6950. Group Rates (10+ tickets): 336/841-2273, ext. 226, or sales@ncshakes.org. Note: The Oct. 7th performance will be audio described and sign-language interpreted. North Carolina Shakespeare Festival: http://www.ncshakes.org/. NCSF Study Guide: http://www.ncshakes.org/Study%20Guides%202005.pdf [inactive 6/07]. Shakespeare Resources: http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/shakespeare/ [inactive 3/10]. Julius Caesar (e-text): http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/ShaJCF.html (First Folio, 1623) and http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/MobJuli.html (Globe Edition, 1866).


North Carolina Shakespeare Festival: In As You Like It,  Romance Is Afoot at Court and in the Forest of Arden

by Robert W. McDowell

In the North Carolina Shakespeare Festival’s perfectly enchanting production of William Shakespeare’s pastoral comedy As You Like It, playing Saturday night and Sunday afternoon in the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Raleigh, NC, romance is afoot in the tense court of the usurper Duke Frederick (Mark Lazar) and in the relaxed Forest of Arden, where Frederick’s older brother, Duke Senior (also played by Mark Lazar), the rightful duke, now lives in exile among the local shepherds with the melancholy Lord Jaques (Guiesseppe Jones) and other banished members of his court.

Written and first performed at the end of the 16th century, this classic comedy blossoms under the impish direction of Ron Bashford. Bashford and fight choreographer Michael Kamtman emphasize the play’s songs and add countless whimsical touches that heighten the show’s hilarity.

In As You Like It, scenic designer Jennifer O’Kelly’s marvelous multilevel set, which is more appropriate for Julius Caesar, doubles as Duke Frederick’s court, where a careless word can get its speaker banished and all his or her lands and properties confiscated. A few leafy drops and some prodigious tree trunks suggest the secluded glens of the Forest of Arden.

Lighting designer Todd Wren artfully illuminates the sunrises, sunsets, and halcyon days in the forest; and costume designer Nanzi Adzima clothes the cast in a pleasing variety of colorful Renaissance-style garments.

Jenn Miller Cribbs gives a crowd-pleasing performance as Rosalind, the beautiful and resourceful daughter of Duke Senior and the beloved of the newly smitten Orlando de Boys (Adam Sheaffer). When her unkind and insecure uncle, the knavish Duke Frederick, banishes her from his court, Rosalind flees to the Forest of Arden, where she assumes the name of Ganymede and the guise of a young man. The court fool, Touchstone (David Foubert), and Duke Frederick’s daughter Celia (Regan Thompson), follow Rosalind who is Celia’s best friend and confidant, into exile where they are reunited with Orlando and, eventually, Duke Senior and the exiled courtiers who live in Arden, Robin Hood style.

Adam Sheaffer is dashing as the lovelorn Orlando, perpetually writing poems to Rosalind and practicing how to woo her with his new friend Ganymede. David Foubert is a stitch as Touchstone, and Cynthia Barrett is amusing as his corn-fed country inamorata Audrey. Regan Thompson is charming as Celia; and Kip Pierson is convincing as Orlando’s selfish and cruel older brother Oliver, who turns over a new leaf after Orlando saves him from a snake and a lion.

Mark Lazar doubles delightfully as the malicious Duke Frederick and the benign Duke Senior, Allan Edwards is quite good as Corin the shepherd, Morgan Peter Brown adds a poignant performance as the de Boys aging but devoted servant Adam and a comic turn as the amorous vicar Sir Oliver Martext, Brandon J. Dirden contributes a vivid comic cameo as the insufferably conceited Charles the Wrestler, and Guiesseppe Jones makes Lord Jaques the very picture of inconsolable melancholy.

Holley Fain and Jason Loughlin provide comic relief as fickle Phoebe and poor lovesick Sylvius, whom Phoebe repeatedly rejects out of hand. Willie V. Repoley adds spice to the proceedings with his appearances as a strolling minstrel; and he combines with Nathan Crocker, Brandon Dirden, and Jason Loughlin to make a charming quartet for Shakespeare’s saucy songs.

As You Like It, which earned a standing ovation last night, is clearly the highlight of the first Raleigh residency of the High Point-based North Carolina Shakespeare Festival. Don’t miss it.

Note: On Oct. 8th, there will be a FREE 3:30-5:30 p.m. seminar led by Christopher Armitage of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to preview that evening’s performance of As You Like It. For reservations, telephone NCSF at 336/841-2273, ext. 226, or e-mail sales@ncshakes.org.

The North Carolina Shakespeare Festival presents As You Like It Saturday, Oct. 8, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 9, at 2 p.m. in the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 1 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $28 ($20 students under 21 and seniors 62+). Progress Energy Center Box Office: 919/831-6950. Group Rates (10+ tickets): 336/841-2273, ext. 226, or sales@ncshakes.org. Note: The Oct. 9th performance will be audio described and sign-language interpreted. North Carolina Shakespeare Festival: http://www.ncshakes.org/. NCSF Study Guide: http://www.ncshakes.org/Study%20Guides%202005.pdf [inactive 6/07]. Shakespeare Resources: http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/shakespeare/ [inactive 3/10]. As You Like It (e-text): http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/ShaAYLF.html (First Folio, 1623) and http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/MobAsYo.html (Globe Edition, 1866).


PREVIEW: North Carolina Shakespeare Festival: In Its First Raleigh Residency, the NCSF Will Perform Shakespeare's Julius Caesar and As You Like It

by Robert W. McDowell

The first Raleigh residency of the North Carolina Shakespeare Festival will include five public performances and three student matinees of two masterpieces by celebrated English playwright William Shakespeare (1565-1616) Julius Caesar, directed by Henson Keys, and As You Like It, directed by Ron Bashford — Oct. 4-9 in the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts. (The 10 a.m. Oct. 5th, 6th, and 7th SchoolFest student group performances have already been sold out, according to the NCSF.)

First performed in 1599-1600, Julius Caesar is a timeless tragedy about political ambition and assassination and the resulting civil war that pitted Roman against Roman. Written and first performed about 1598-1600, As You Like It is a popular romantic comedy principally set in the court of the usurper Duke Frederick and the Forest of Arden, where his brother, Duke Senior, the rightful duke, and lives in exile with his followers.

In a news release, the North Carolina Shakespeare Festival’s press agent writes:

“Per 29-year tradition of the High Point-based professional theater company, this year’s NCSF productions offer audiences the rare opportunity to enjoy multiple performances in repertory. Audiences may attend one or both shows, staged on a unit set designed by NCSF and inspired by Shakespeare’s Globe Theater. This season, the timber set is enhanced for each distinctive production with a contemporary staging of Julius Caesar and a medieval setting for As You Like It.

“Audiences have two opportunities to see the political thriller Julius Caesar, and three opportunities to see the romantic comedy As You Like It. Those attending both productions will enjoy double-bill performances, including Guiesseppe Jones as Julius Caesar, and Jaques in As You Like It; Brandon J. Dirden as Brutus, and Charles the Wrestler in As You Like It; Adam Sheaffer as Marc Antony, and Orlando the lover in As You Like It; Cynthia Barrett as Calpurnia, and Audrey the country bumpkin in As You Like It; Regan Thompson as Brutus’ true wife Portia, and Rosalind’s true friend Celia in As You Like It; among roles performed by the 23-member company of actors.”

Note: On Oct. 8th, there will be a FREE 3:30-5:30 p.m. seminar led by Christopher Armitage of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to preview that evening’s performance of As You Like It. For reservations, telephone NCSF at 336/841-2273, ext. 226.

The North Carolina Shakespeare Festival presents Julius Caesar (Tuesday, Oct. 4, at 7:30 p.m. and Friday, Oct. 7, at 8 p.m.) and As You Like It (Thursday, Oct. 6, at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday, Oct. 8, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Oct. 9, at 2 p.m.) in the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 1 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $28 ($20 students under 21 and seniors 62+), except $18 Rush Night Oct. 4th. Progress Energy Center Box Office: 919/831-6950. Group Rates (10+ tickets): 336/841-2273, ext. 226. Note: The Oct. 7th and 9th performances will be audio described and sign-language interpreted. North Carolina Shakespeare Festival: http://www.ncshakes.org/. NCSF Study Guide: http://www.ncshakes.org/Study%20Guides%202005.pdf [inactive 6/07]. Shakespeare Resources: http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/shakespeare/ [inactive 3/10]. Julius Caesar (e-text): http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/ShaJCF.html (First Folio, 1623) and http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/MobJuli.html (Globe Edition, 1866). As You Like It (e-text): http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/ShaAYLF.html (First Folio, 1623) and http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/toc/modeng/public/MobAsYo.html (Globe Edition, 1866).