Tina Packer's JULIUS CAESAR Runs Now thru 8/30 at Shakespeare & Company
Idealism, ambition, conspiracy, honor, greed, betrayal and the lust for power-echoes of our own modern politics-are all on tap in Shakespeare's potent and bloody Julius Caesar. Last performed at the Company in 1993, Founding Artistic Director Tina Packer delivers audiences her 'bare-Bard' production of Caesar, marking its final leg of a three city tour-Orlando, Florida, Prague in the Czech Republic, and now at home in Lenox, with Shakespeare & Company. With 7 actors playing multiple roles this poetry-filled psychological and political thriller follows the conspiracy and assassination of the omnipotent Roman leader, and the consequences that ensue from his brutal murder. Performances run in the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre today, June 27 - August 30.Press Opening is Friday, July 4 at 8:00pm.
"Shakespeare's Julius Caesar offers a remarkably accurate reflection of what actually occurred during the reign of Caesar," says Packer. "He was a famous and highly regarded general, a terrific warrior and strategist, a writer and great thinker, who supported the common people. He changed the course of Roman history. When the play opens Rome is in a time of crisis. Julius Caesar, through his many conquests, is King in all parts of the known world excepting his home country Rome. Having amassed great wealth and popularity it seems inevitable that he will be crowned in Rome. However, Brutus, a leading Roman senator is persuaded by Cassius, another Roman senator to assassinate Caesar before that happens. The dilemma for Brutus, a deeply philosophic man, is: should Caesar be assassinated to prevent him becoming King? Brutus' ancestors got rid of the last Roman King, the rapist Tarquin, over 400 years ago. Caesar is Brutus's friend and as of yet he has committed no crime. For Cassius, the moment has come when Caesar must be stopped-as well as Mark Antony, Caesar's favorite. Brutus joins Cassius and others, but refuses to kill anyone other than Caesar." Packer states, "The leading Roman families were staunch republicans sharing power among themselves. The ordinary people tended to blindly worship their leaders. Before Caesar, they followed Pompey. Women, slaves, bondsmen have little or no voice in the power structure of Rome."
The ensuing events-violent, dramatic, and universal-create a tale for our time just as much as that of Rome over 2000 years ago. At just under two hours, Packer's visionary Caesar is a roller coaster of action, deeply held ideas, passion and sadness. Shakespeare wrote Caesar in 1599, just before he penned Hamlet and Macbeth.
Of note, Packer's current production of Caesar has had three incarnations since March, 2014. It ran at the Orlando Shakespeare Festival in Florida and at the Prague Shakespeare Festival in the Czech Republic, before coming home to Lenox. There have been several cast changes in each city with the exception of Jason Asprey (Love's Labour's Lost, Accomplice, Parasite Drag, Hamlet) and Nigel Gore (Women of Will, The Memory of Water, Antony and Cleopatra). Joining them are Andrew Borthwick-Leslie (Hamlet, Lettice and Lovage, The Merchant of Venice, Glimpses of the Moon, Training Program faculty), Eric Tucker (director of Women of Will, Bad Dates and the Pinter One-Acts at S&Co., and Artistic Director of Bedlam Theater in NYC), Kristin Wold (The Tempest, The Memory of Water, Othello and currently starring in Shakespeare's Will) and newcomers James Udom, and Mat Leonard (who can also be seen in Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike).
"I've gone back to our 'bare Bard' format in this production, which I find exciting to create and challenging to work on," continues Packer. "I have directed Caesar once before in this format, in the Stables at The Mount. The emphasis on Shakespeare's text makes the language the focus of this production, including the relationships between the actors, and the actors and the audience. Out of the language comes vibrant images and the actors move into statues embodying the ideas that drove Rome to greatness. In a way the world of the play is created by these statues until war comes and chaos ensues. The concentration of the cast has to be total-besides playing their principle parts they become the citizens, the mob, and the armies. It's exciting to be working with this particular group of actors-many of whom I've worked with both on stage as an actor, and as a director. In fact Eric Tucker, directed Nige and I in Women of Will, and now the roles are reversed, which is so much fun.
Packer devised the Company's signature 'bare Bard' performance model over three decades ago, which typically features 6-10 actors playing multiple roles in a pared-down, incisive and fast paced production with minimal sets and costume elements. The 'bare Bard' mirrors many of the travelling performing troupes during Shakespeare's time when they were forced to move away from the cities and perform in the country to avoid the plague.
Tina Packer is the Founding Artistic Director of Shakespeare & Company. She conceived and performed the five part series Women of Will: The Complete Journey, with her acting partner Nigel Gore, which played Off Broadway this past year to critical acclaim and toured the country and Europe. Packer picks up the director's reins after a two-year absence from the Company-she directed the 2012 production of The Learned Ladies. At S&Co., Tina has directed most of Shakespeare's cannon, including favorites Othello, King Lear, Macbeth, Coriolanus, Richard III, The Merchant of Venice, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Julius Caesar, as well as several world premieres including the Edith Wharton adaptation of Summer, Joan Ackermann's Ice Glen and The Taster, David Egan's The Fly-bottle and The Scarlet Letter by Carol Gilligan and many other contemporary plays from Les Liaison Dangereuses to Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme. As an actor, she recently performed to critical acclaim in last summer's The Beauty Queen of Leenane. Packer has also channeled Texan journalist Molly Ivins in the one-woman show, Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins, as well as Gertrude in Hamlet, Cleopatra in Antony & Cleopatra, and Edith Wharton and Shirley Valentine. Tina has directed across the country and abroad including an all-male Coriolanus in Great Britain, Richard III at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, and Troilus and Cressida, Henry VIII. Packer trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, where she won the Ronson Award for Most Outstanding Performer. In Britain, she was an associate artist with the Royal Shakespeare Company, performed in the West End, and acted with repertory companies in Glasgow and Edinburgh. She has also worked for the BBC and ITV television companies, and in film. She is the subject of the WGBH documentary Sex, Violence and Poetry: A Portrait of Tina Packer, and Helen Epstein's biography The Companies She Keeps. She is the recipient of over 20 awards, honors and fellowships. In 1994 and 1995 she received Guggenheim and Bunting Fellowships to create and perform her unique trilogy of work,Women of Will. She was also given the 1999-2000 Arts Recipient of the Commonwealth Award, the state's highest honor for excellence in the arts and holds over a half a dozen honorary doctorates of letters including Emerson College and Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. Tina is the author of Tales from Shakespeare and co-author of Power Plays: Shakespeare's Lessons in Leadership & Management, and has lectured and directed at Columbia, Harvard, and M.I.T. She recently wrote the book of Women of Will which will be published by Knopf and released in the spring of 2015.
For Tickets and information about the 2014 Performance Season visit: www.shakespeare.org or call the Box Office at (413) 637-3353, or in person at 70 Kemble Street, Lenox, MA. Ticket prices for the Bernstein range from $10 to $60, with discounts from 10-50% off regular ticket prices for Groups, Students, Seniors, Teachers and the Military. Our very popular 40% Off Berkshire County Residents' Discount will again be available this season. Both the Playhouse and Bernstein theatres are wheelchair accessible and hearing-aid assisted. To learn more about the season, discount availability, to order tickets or request a season brochure, visit www.shakespeare.org. For group bookings, parties, and special event rental information and details contact David Joseph, Director of Sales & Group Tours, at (413) 637-1199 ext. 132 firstname.lastname@example.org. GIFT CARDS are on sale year round!
Photo by Kevin Sprague