Theatre for a New Audience is presenting William Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, directed by Shana Cooper in her Off-Broadway debut.
The production will play on the Samuel H. Scripps Mainstage at TFANA’s home, Polonsky Shakespeare Center (262 Ashland Place, Brooklyn), March 17 – April 28, 2019.
Cooper first staged an earlier incarnation of this production of Julius Caesar that premiered in February 2017 at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (Bill Rauch, Artistic Director; Cynthia Rider, Executive Director). She reimagines it for TFANA with eight of the original OSF company joining nine new actors.
Shakespeare’s primary source for Julius Caesar was Plutarch. Rome, a Republic, is led by a Senate of elected officials. Julius Caesar, a brilliant Roman military leader who commands his own army, conquers Gaul and expands Rome’s domain to Britain. But, when the Senate, fearful of Caesar’s increasingly imperial power, demands he give up his forces and return to Rome, Caesar illegally marches his army across the Rubicon River into Roman territory. Civil war erupts between Julius Caesar and Pompey.
When Shakespeare’s play begins, Julius Caesar (Rocco Sisto, three-time OBIE Award-winner) has just defeated and killed Pompey. At the festival of Lupercalia, the citizens celebrate Caesar’s victories and the end of civil war. Caesar is offered a crown which would make him a king with unrivaled political power for life. Cassius (Matthew Amendt), a Senator, persuades the conflicted Brutus (Brandon J. Dirden, OBIE, Theatre World and Audelco Awards) a Senator and close friend of Caesar’s to join a group of Conspirators to kill Caesar to save Rome and its Republican traditions. Despite supernatural omens and warnings by Calpurnia, Caesar’s wife, (Tiffany Rachelle Stewart) and the Soothsayer (Michelle Hurst), Caesar goes to the Senate where the conspirators assassinate him crying Liberty! Freedom! Tyranny is dead!
Shakespeare presents multiple perspectives on whether the Conspirators were right to assassinate Caesar and were patriotic defenders of the Roman Republic and liberty or criminals. The word honor and its variants occur forty-one times in the play and its meaning often changes. Rather than saving the Republic, the assassination plunges Rome into another civil war. Mark Antony (Jordan Barbour), a politician and general loyal to Caesar, joins forces with Octavius Caesar (Benjamin Bonenfant) and Lepidus (Liam Craig) and conquers the Conspirators. Portia, Brutus wife (Merritt Janson) commits suicide and Brutus and Cassius also take their lives. The Roman Republic is replaced by the Roman Empire and power is consolidated under Mark Antony, Octavius Caesar and Lepidus.
Shana Cooper’s production is not set in one historic moment. She observes, in Julius Caesar, the world is on fire there are natural disasters happening at the beginning of the play that culminate in Caesar’s assassination and Shakespeare mirrors human actions with supernatural events as if to say, ‘This has happened before, and it will happen again a cycle that plays out again and again.’ Initially, the violence in the play is a choice and then it becomes like a disease; a contagion; and then a conflagration. The vocabulary for this production is a theatrical language that mirrors this timelessness and moves from the realistic to the poetic.
Ms. Cooper also explores gender in the play and says, Men have the political power, but women such as Portia and Calphurnia, wives to Brutus and Caesar, are central to the story. I want to bring out the importance of women in the play by casting the roles of the Soothsayer; Cicero and Artemidorous characters who warn of the dangers of violence and are usually played by men with women.
TFANA Artistic Director Jeffrey Horowitz says, The play’s title in the First Folio is The Tragedy of Julius Caesar. But who is the tragic character? Caesar, Brutus or, perhaps, the Republic of Rome? When we begin performances at TFANA in March 2019, the American elections of 2020 won’t be far away. TFANA is thrilled to be working on this play with Shana in partnership with OSF at this time.
Oregon Shakespeare Festival Artistic Director Bill Rausch says, “It is a huge honor for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival to be in partnership with Theatre for A New Audience on The Tragedy of Julius Caesar. An earlier incarnation of this production thrilled our audiences in Ashland for 120 performances. On behalf of our entire company, I couldn’t be happier that New York audiences will get to experience the mesmerizing energy and insights of Shana Cooper’s vision with some of the original actors as well as many exceptional artists who are new to the cast.”
The cast features Matthew Amendt (Bernhardt/Hamlet on Broadway, TFANA’s Much Ado About Nothing and Tamburlaine the Great)as Cassius; Jordan Barbour (Julius Caesar, Beauty and the Beast,and The Wiz at OSF, New York Theatre Workshop’s Vertebrae) as Mark Antony; Mark Bedard (The Cocoanuts at The Guthrie and OSF, Primary Stages’ Pride & Prejudice;TV: “The Good Fight,” “The Knick”) as Trebonius/Plebian/Ensemble; Benjamin Bonenfant (Julius Caesar, The Odyssey, Great Expectations at OSF) as Octavius Caesar; Liam Craig (The Killer at TFANA, Keen Company’s Later Life, Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival’s Rip Van Winkle) as Caius Ligarius/Lepidus/Plebeian/Ensemble; Ted Deasy (Julius Caesar, Twelfth Night, The Taming of the Shrew at OSF)as Metellus Cimber; Brandon J. Dirden (Jitney and All The Way on Broadway; TV: “The Americans,” “The Get Down”) as Marcus Brutus; Emily Dorsch (Black Pearl Sings at Geva Theatre Center; TV: “Boardwalk Empire,” “Madam Secretary”) as Cicero/Plebeian/Ensemble; Michelle Hurst (“Orange Is the New Black,” “Broad City,” Frances Ha) as Soothsayer; Merritt Janson (Notes From Underground, Tamburlaine the Great, and Measure for Measure at TFANA) as Portia; Armando McClain (Julius Caesar, Romeo and Juliet, Much Ado About Nothing at OSF)as Cinna; Galen Molk (Julius Caesar, The Odyssey at OSF) as Cinna, the Poet/Servant/Others; Barret O’Brien (Julius Caesar, Twelfth Night at OSF, Crane Story at Cherry Lane Theatre) as Decius Brutus; Julian Remulla (Julius Caesar, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet at OSF) as Lucius; Juliana Sass as Artemidorous; Rocco Sisto (The King and I, To Be or Not to Be, Amadeus, Seminar on Broadway) as Julius Caesar; Stephen M. Spencer (Julius Caesar, Othello, Love’s Labor’s Lost at OSF) as Caska; and Tiffany Rachelle Stewart (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time on Broadway, MTC’s Sugar in Our Wounds) as Calphurnia.
The creative team includes Sibyl Wickersheimer (Scenic Designer), Raquel Barreto (Costume Designer), Christopher Akerlind (Lighting Designer), Paul James Prendergast (Composer & Sound Designer), Erika Chong Shuch (Choreographer), Alison Bomber (Voice & Text Coach), Jack Doulin (Casting Director), Jonathan Kalb (Dramaturg), U. Jonathan Toppo (Fight Director), Andrew Diaz (Properties Supervisor), and Shane Schnetzler (Stage Manager).
Tickets are on sale to the public at www.tfana.org, 866.811.4111, and Polonsky Shakespeare Center box office. Polonsky Shakespeare Center is located at 262 Ashland Place, Brooklyn.