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‘Julius Caesar’ has new twist on play
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Shown in a scene from TheatreWorks Community Players’ production of “Julius Caesar” are (from left) Scott Reynolds as Brutus, Jonathan Reynolds as Casca and Danee Simmons as Cassius. (Contributed photo)

Sunday, March 9, 2014

By HARRISON HAMLET - Special to the Bulletin

The days of Shakespearean intimidation are over, if TheatreWorks Community Players and the cast of “Julius Caesar” have anything to say about it.

Wearing modern clothes and using their cell phones on stage, but still speaking in the Old English of Shakespeare’s play, the cast of “Julius Caesar” put a new twist on an old classic Thursday night in uptown Martinsville. The play was performed in front of about 45 people at the Black Box Theatre.

Weather permitting, the show will go on as planned at 2 p.m. today, then again at 7 p.m. March 13, 14 and 15 at the Black Box Theatre.

“The root of the story is still a current theme,” said artistic director Corbin Campbell. “We kept the text the same and gave it a modern application.”

Shakespeare wrote “Julius Caesar” around 1599. At that time, the British were concerned that Queen Elizabeth I would not produce an heir to the throne, and the play asks the audience to think about the parallels between ancient Roman history and contemporary politics, according to the program.

The play was full of firsts for the local community theater group, said Tom Berry, who plays Caesar.

“It has been a different experience with a lot of firsts for us. It is TheatreWorks’ first Shakespeare play; it is the first time any of the actors are acting in the round; and it is the most tech-heavy show we have done,” he said.

“In the round” means the audience seating surrounds the stage. It apparently was a hit both with Campbell and the audience.

“A black box production is already intimate with the crowd on all sides, but in the round it becomes even more intimate. We were very excited about that and because it was Shakespeare,” said Campbell.

“I think this round setting is really kind of cool. No matter where you sit, it seems like you have a good seat,” said Susy Poole, an audience member from Martinsville.

The props and costumes were not the only parts of the show that were modernized. Two large television monitors were placed above the stage and were visible to all audience members. They set the scene for much of the play, and Caesar’s ghost even spoke his lines through the monitors. The monitors also showed a tongue-in-cheek Powerpoint presentation before the show began, with trivia about Shakespeare and Caesar and several jokes from cast members.

Audience member Caleb Harrison of Martinsville said he enjoyed the use of TV screens and thought they set the scenes well.

Ultimately, Berry’s wife, Roo, summed up the modernization of “Julius Caesar” best when she said to her husband, “I forgot I was watching Shakespeare.”

For Tom Berry, the newest thing about this show was having a larger role. Previously, he said, he has performed only in minor parts in TheatreWorks shows.

Scott Reynolds, who plays Brutus, has faced the bright lights of a premier role before, but he said he felt a little trepidation about the bard’s work.

“It was certainly intimidating, and on top of that it was the shortest rehearsal period we have ever had for a show,” due in part to recent bad weather, said Reynolds. Typically, about 30 rehearsals are held before a performance, but the group has rehearsed “Caesar” about 18 times, according to Campbell.

“I give full credit to the cast” for dealing with the short rehearsal period, Campbell said. “They did a fantastic job with so much dialogue to learn in such a short time ... it speaks to their dedication.”

Many of the 14 cast members learned more than one role; the average number of roles per cast member was three due to the large number of characters in the play.

“It was a total team effort. We had a very supportive cast that was constantly working during rehearsals,” as opposed to the goofing off in between scenes that sometimes happens, said Berry.


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