How do you take a play by William Shakespeare, reduce it to its bare minimum of storyline (packed into about 45 minutes’ running time), while still retaining some of its language and all of its message, and make it clear, relevant and entertaining to students from a wide range of backgrounds and ages?
I don’t have an exact answer, but Asolo Rep, the FSU/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training, and the company’s educational department have been doing this for several years with plays by the bard, and they seem to have hit upon a winning formula, based on a preview of this year’s touring production of Julius Caesar.
The educators who are welcoming the Conservatory’s troupe of actors into their schools, along with members of the press, Conservatory supporters and others, saw the play (adapted by Tyler Dobrowsky, directed by James Dean Palmer and starring the 12 members of the Conservatory third-year acting class) at a special show Friday night before it heads out around the state. (There will be a few other opportunities for the public to view it; visit asolorep.org to learn more.)
Dobrowsky decided to set the play in “a place like Wall Street” and a time “something like the eighties,” perhaps making it more accessible to youngsters, even though they would not have been alive in that era themselves. But the timing also gives the producers a chance to make good use of pulsing rock music of the decade, as well as to draw some comparisons between the ancient Romans and their civil war and the “Greed is good” mores of filmdom’s Gordon Gekko and his ilk.
As director Palmer points out in his notes, the dilemmas presented by Julius Caesar also have their echoes right now. As he writes, “A controversial leader divides the nation. Half want their promised wealth and stability. Half fight to preserve the freedoms of the republic. Both sides have everything to lose and neither is willing to budge.” OK, we living during the current presidential administration get it.
For the most part, this abridged version of the story makes its points with high energy and some pretty thrilling staging, considering the production is designed to work with a minimum of props, lighting, etc. in the schools. While some students, especially younger ones, may not immediately grasp the reasons behind the conspirators’ drive to remove Caesar, even by such a drastic method as assassination, they should get involved with the action, which swings quickly from a party atmosphere at the beginning to the murder itself to battle scenes choreographed to feel both violent and bigger than they really are, as soldiers are killed and replaced by a repeating line of actors.
The acting students work effectively together to convey not just the action but the ways different characters relate to Caesar and each other. The more central performances—by Andrew Bosworth as Caesar, Anthony J. Hamilton as Brutus, and Aleksandr Krapivkin as Mark Antony—are compelling.
Dominique Fawn Hill’s costume designs, ranging from business attire to military regalia, Matthew Parker’s sound design, and Myah Shein’s movement direction help pull the production together without any need for more extensive sets or backdrops than used here.
Almost 60 performances of Julius Caesar will be presented this fall season; if you’re intrigued by the idea, contact the Asolo at (941) 351-9010 ext. 3307.