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Theater For The New City Presents Racine's BRITANNICUS

Theater For The New City Presents Racine's BRITANNICUS

Theater for the New City and The Xoregos Performing Company are presenting Jean Racine's Britannicus, a classic French play with contemporary echoes related to politics and power, in May.

The Xoregos Performing Company, which specializes in neglected classics ranging from Europe to the Harlem Renaissance, is bringing one of the most famous dramas originally written in French to life in a new translation by Howard Rubenstein.

The show about seduction, greed and corruption is set in Rome and is running May 3-20 in the Cabaret, at Theater for the New City, 155 First Avenue, in Manhattan. Tickets are available for $18.00 and $15.00 for students and seniors by clicking the Tix link.

The production is directed by Shela Xoregos with Tyler Austin as Britannicus, Stephen Kime as a teen-aged Nero, Katy Copeland as Nero's power mad mother, Agrippina, Andrew R. Cooksey as Narcissus, Sam Urdang as Burrus, Stephanie Litchfield as Junia and Irvina Ruth as Albina.

Don Cate designed sets and lighting, Jeff Sturdivant designed untraditional costumes, Barbara Rottman composed Nero's song, Bong Dizon is prop master, Melanie Ryan is stage manager and Alexandra Poage is assistant stage manager for this production that recreates Nero's Rome.

The drama, first performed in 1669 and set in Nero's palace in the First Century A.D., is based on the story of Nero, his ruthless mother Agrippina and his step-brother, Britannicus, the rightful emperor of Rome.

A kind of Britannicus Americanus since it's likely to be seen through a contemporary lens, this is the East Coast premiere of Rubenstein's translation and a rare opportunity to see French classical theater in America (the play is considered Racine's masterpiece), though it is performed in English.

"Agrippina (Nero's mother) is completely ruthless. Britannicus was her husband Claudius's son by another marriage," Xoregos says. "She manipulated to get her son Nero on the throne rather than Britannicus, her step-son."

Just as Shakespeare based some of his greatest plays on real characters and history, Racine starts with history and adds drama, dialogue and some fictional characters.

Nero, through Agrippina's machinations, has the throne rather than Claudius's son, Britannicus. Nero then pursues Britannicus's fiancee, Junia. Agrippina refuses to accept Nero's independence from her and the play demonstrates their power struggle.

"Most of it happened," continues Xoregos. "The love interest, Junia and the character of Narcissus are dramatic entities, created by Racine, but the major events in the play happened. This is the way politics always has been, where people vie for power and try to influence the leader. There are lies, corruption, collusion in the play."

While she says there are some echoes of "what we're having in the White House now," the play itself has stood the test of time, remaining relevant through the centuries. "People say and do things to gain power or money," she says.

Nero has two advisors, one who is corrupt and one, honest. "They're juxtaposed. It's sort of like Comey who got fired," Xoregos says. "I think he was probably a very honest person."

If audiences see shades of Donald Trump, James Comey and other figures in the characters and story, Britannicus is still a recounting of Nero's rise and fall. He was forced to commit suicide at age 31.

At the start of the play, Nero is a teenager who has ruled wisely and well the first two years of his reign. He starts to disintegrate morally and mentally and did eventually go mad.

The play was done about twenty years ago at BAM in an English production with Diana Rigg as Agrippina. "This translation was premiered several years ago in San Diego. This translation is elegant, simple and true to the spirit of Racine," says Xoregos.

Why present this play today? "There is relevance to the abuse of power," Xoregos says. "But the play exists far beyond the contours of contemporary life and politics.

"It's a beautiful, classical work, a masterpiece That's my main reason for doing it," Xoregos says. "But it does relate to corruption at the highest level, which happens in the play and is part of human nature."

Britannicus by Jean Racine, Cabaret Theater, Theater for the New City, 155 First Avenue, New York, NY. May 3-20. The classic drama set in First Century A.D. shows Nero and his mother Agrippina in a struggle for power. The East Coast premiere of this elegant translation. A rare opportunity to see French classical theater in the United States. Performed in English. $18/$15. students and seniors. Smarttix. Information and reservations: 212-254-1109.

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