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‘Julius Caesar’ gets a revamp

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May 16, 2011 | Leave Comment

While Julius Caesar's (Matt Kronzer) back is turned, Cassius (Shayna Carp) and Brutus (Matthew Canty), holding knives, think about killing him in a production currently being staged at UC Davis. Courtesy photo

Details

What: Studio 301 production of “Julius Caesar”

When: 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday; 7 p.m. Sunday

Where: Outdoor courtyard between Sproul Hall and the School of Education on the UC Davis campus

Tickets: $10 general, at the door or in advance by calling (530) 752 1915

Info: email Studio301Productions@gmail.com

The UC Davis theater department didn’t stage any Shakespeare this year, so the enterprising members of Studio 301, a student-run group, took on the task themselves, presenting the tragedy “Julius Caesar” outdoors, with a cast that includes some seasoned student/community performers and a few newbies.

“Julius Caesar” is an interesting challenge, given that the script has only two speaking parts for women, while Studio 301’s cast of 20 is evenly divided in terms of gender.

So Studio 301 has opted for the same kind of modifications that California Shakespeare made when it staged “Julius Caesar” in 2003: Women step into roles customarily reserved for men. This includes a majority of the conspirators who cut down Caesar, among them Sarah Cohen, a veteran of multiple Shakespeare productions hereabouts, playing Casca. The setting of the play also shifts into a timeless zone that suggests ancient Rome, but doesn’t include a lot of togas.

And maybe a few modern political overtones as well. Cassius, a senator who clearly longs for greater power (described by Caesar as having “a lean and hungry look”) is played in this production by Shayna Carp, who projects an intensity and ambition —as well as a tendency to make the occasional miscalculation — that reminded this reviewer of Hillary Clinton when she sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008.

Presenting Cassius as a powerful woman shifts the character’s relationship with Brutus, played here by Matthew Canty, whose slender, lanky frame and philosophical presentation of his lines during the play’s first half are reminiscent of Barack Obama on one of his more aloof “professorial” days.

Director Michael Lutheran mixes in several other flourishes. He presents the Soothsayer (“Beware the Ides of March!”) as a female trio (Yana Zhovinky, Gillian Heitman, Hanna Sharafian) hovering on the periphery, swaying events through potent hand gestures, or even slipping briefly into the action. This manipulative threesome recalls The Fates, and the witches in “Macbeth.”

Lutheran also inserts a vivid, wordless scene just after Caesar’s assassination in which Portia, Brutus’ wife, comes face to face with the distraught Calpurnia, Caesar’s widow. Lutheran also puts a different spin on the final meeting between (male) Brutus and (female) Cassius, as they prepare to go into battle, knowing they may die.

After Brutus discloses that his wife has taken her own life, their meeting concludes with a kiss that’s more than platonic.

Alex Newhouse plays Mark Anthony, and handles his big speech (“Friends, Romans, countrymen…”) with zest, and also gets the desired laugh with Antony’s famous line regarding an unintelligible speech by Cicero: “It was Greek to me!” Newhouse is also cool as he ticks off the names of senators to be eliminated as Antony and Octavius attempt to seize power.

Matt Kronzer brings a suitably regal presence to the title role, which only involves a few scenes. Alas, Kronzer twisted his ankle on opening night — always a hazard when staging battle scenes outdoors in the dark. Director Lutheran reportedly stepped in as understudy for subsequent performances last weekend.

The spacious courtyard area where the show is staged — between Sproul Hall and the School of Education — gives fight choreographer Gabriel Rose plenty of room to maneuver, and he makes the most of it. But the play’s one-on-one conversations suffer a bit in the vast space. Costumes (by Gillian Heitman and Karly Goodwin) and lighting (by Brendan Ward) are relatively modest in scope, but effective.

Attendees are strongly advised to bring a folding beach chair, or at least a pillow to sit on. The evening air gets downright chilly long before the play concludes, so it’s also a good idea fetch a hooded sweatshirt and a blanket as well, and maybe a Thermos of something warm to sip.

— Reach Jeff Hudson at jhudson@davisenterprise.net or (530) 747-8055.

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