Directed by Robert S. Currier
Barry Kraft is a Shakespearean treasure. Working on any play with him is a delight. For Julius Caesar, we had the luxury of a two-year prep time, as Bob and Barry had decided to do the play come hell or high water (or major U.S. recession) before Barry traipsed off around the world in search of lunar eclipse viewing during the summer of 2008.
Barry helped with the script, and taught us Roman history. He was our reference point in casting and helped choose our stellar acting company. He also introduced us to an old buddy of his, Jay Karnes, now a TV actor on The Shield (a series regular for seven years), Sons of Anarchy, and many other current shows. We weren’t quite sure if Jay could act onstage, though, but we were willing to take Barry’s word for his skill plus the fact that he did three seasons at Ashland before LA seduced him into her arms. We also weren’t sure if he would be a prima donna, if he would drop out at the last minute for a big TV gig, or if he would enjoy working with our tiny little company far from the bright lights of Lalaland. Imagine our delight when – at the first rehearsal – in walks an incredibly gifted actor, perfectly suited to the role, who turns out to be funny, self-deprecating, and absolutely committed. Wow.
As it turns out, Jay is a Roman history buff too. So we’d have Barry and Jay topping each other with relevant tid-bits from the various Roman historians, descriptions of the Lupercal celebration, the battle against the Nervii, and much much more.
Shockingly, we chose to set the play in ancient Rome, with togas, short swords and Roman shields, fluted columns and Latin inscriptions. We let the historical parallels, which are many, speak for themselves. We had great discussions with our school groups about democracy and heroism. And we had a lot of blood.
Blood, blood, blood. We had to choose the right fabrics for the costumes, make sure the blood would wash off of the set, block the fights so the blood bags would work, and develop elaborate laundering systems – and there were two two-show days, which were major challenges. There were times when the smell of the peanut butter that formed the basis for the blood recipe was overwhelming backstage. We had to worry about keeping the actors warm and safe when they were covered with wet blood, some for over half an hour.
But the real challenge of Julius Caesar is the words. You’ve got to make the story intelligible to a modern audience whose knowledge of Roman history is not as vast as that of the average Elizabethan. Of all the kudos the production received, the best comment was from a teacher who brought a group of students to a Student Matinee who was convinced we had updated the language. Now, that’s a great tribute to a fantastic acting company!
Barry Kraft has given so much to Marin Shakespeare Company, and we are grateful to have him in our lives. Imagine our delight when, the final week of the run, Barry sneaked off to marry Jessica Sage, who I had introduced him to as we were preparing for King Lear in 2006. After all Barry has given us, it was a real treat to have given him that fateful introduction. Summer of love, indeed! Even in Rome…
From the Playbill
“When I asked Barry Kraft, during our 2006 production of King Lear, if there were any other Shakespeare roles he was still dying to play, his immediate response was ‘Julius Caesar, the title role.’ In his half-century career acting Shakespeare he had played Brutus and Cassius but never the man himself….The depth of Shakespeare’s great tragedies in unfathomable. They are a feast for thought, and the questions they pose are profound and unanswerable.
Was Brutus ‘honorable?’ Is it ever possible to be honorable while considering assassination?
Was Caesar a tyrant? Did he deserve to die? Are citizens merely fickle pawns to be manipulated by the next demagogue? (Mark Antony, who claims to be a plain speaker, proves to be one of the most eloquent demagogues in history.)
How can we know what form of government would be best? Is the Roman stoicism evinced by some of its male leaders admirable, or would they be better off if they listened more to their wives? Can we learn from history, or are we more likely to ‘misconstrue everything’ as does Cassius when he mistakes victory for defeat and takes his own life. How could Brutus, ‘the noblest Roman of them all,’ get it so wrong?
Perhaps this play has been so popular over the past 400+ years partially because it does help us to learn from history, to remember how easily crowds can be swayed and good men can be convinced to participate in bad actions, how easily victory and defeat can be mistaken in the heat of the moment, and how easily all of us can get things wrong.
There are no easy answers, only an amazing ancient Roman journey told through the genius of Shakespeare’s language from Rome to Philippi, from a republic to an empire. The contemporary parallels are everywhere. We thank you for coming along on this historical journey which is today, as it has been for many centuries, continually relevant and illuminating.”
– Director’s Notes
What the Critics Said
“In Marin Shakespeare’s production of Julius Caesar, it is impossible to decide who is indeed ‘the noblest Roman of them all,’ since director Robert Currier has brought in such a superb triumvirate of actors….Elsman…is a watchable villain; …he is always an audience favorite….The lights and sound (Ellen Brooks and Billie Cox) get a workout as nature and gods protest the behavior of men….Costumer Claire Townsend uses shawls and shields and bottlebrush helmets to add interest to the white togas….Fight director Brian Herndon brings soldiers through the audience for his short but ferocious stage battles….A large group of actors works hard to show us the rabble that is the heart of politics, then and now, as the citizens of Rome shout praise and/or abuse at their chosen leaders.”
– Lee Brady, Pacific Sun
“This final production of the season is not a modern-dress update of The Bard’s tragedy; it’s the fully costumed original, anachronisms (clocks) and all. Yet much of it seems modern and accessible. Julius Caesar, alive or dead, still has a lot to say.”
– Rosine Reynolds, Tiburon Ark
“Currier shaped the action so that it supports and deepens the understanding of the text….Currier has assembled a strong cast with well-known Shakespearean actor Barry Kraft in the title role….
The major episodes in Act I are vigorously executed….Cassius… (brilliantly played by Jack Powell)… is the best piece of character drawing — the genuine radical and driving wheel of revolution. Elsman’s Antony is a straight and sure-fire role embellished with splendid orations. Brutus, beautifully portrayed by Karnes, is a real challenge. He is not the hero-villain whose fall inspires awe, nor the eager hero who commands our sympathy….I applaud the efforts of Director, cast and crew to bring the story of Julius Caesar to life for us.”
– Flora Lynn Isaacson, San Francisco Bay Times
“…fine performances by Jack Powell as Cassius, the head conspirator, and Cat Thompson as passionate Portia, Brutus’ equally thoughtful spouse….[Orson] Welles indicated the credentials for the actor to play Brutus; the audience must believe he’s a thinker, ‘someone who thinks offstage as well as on.’ Jay Karnes has this quality, a rare grace among performers.”
– Ken Bullock, Commuter Times
“Like a Colossus, Marin Shakespeare Competes With the Heavyweights
One might say Barry Kraft has done it all when it comes to Shakespeare. Kraft has acted in all thirty-eight of Shakespeare’s plays, with more than one hundred roles and eighty-four productions under his belt. How’s that for gusto? He’s also served as dramaturge at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival for twenty-three seasons.
Kraft last acted on the Marin Shakespeare stage in 2006, reigning supreme in the title role of King Lear. Now he gives his all as Julius Caesar, and although we love Kraft, this is not a particularly likable Caesar.
He enters from above like a god, tossing laurel wreaths to the people below and presidential baby kissing as he descends into the masses. This Caesar is arrogant and almost snide. He’s also frail, and there’s no doubt this Caesar suffers from the ‘falling sickness,’ as Kraft enters the stage beaded in sweat, his hands shaking and with portentous evidence of a fall swelling on his forehead.
When on the stage, Kraft commands it. When he falls to the stage, his death is swift, cold and brutal, but it is at that epic moment—’Et tu Brute?’—that Kraft breaks our hearts. The subtle silence between Kraft and Jay Karnes (Brutus) in the seconds that follow these three famous words is a supreme moment in time.
Television actor Jay Karnes plays Brutus, and most importantly, he plays Brutus as a complicated, strong, thinking and flawed man with a conscience….His role as Brutus is memorable…. He’s statuesque, offering a certain dignity and grace to his character, and his slight sneer—not quite like Elvis, but one can’t help but make the connection—is oddly appealing. Karnes is a seasoned actor who understands the subtle nuances necessary to convey Brutus’ stoic emotions and his troubled mind. It’s almost as though Karnes allows us to see into the mind of his character and feel the impossible quest of his conscience.
Unlike Caesar, we do like Brutus, only because Karnes somehow slips a sympathetic vein into this complicated Roman patrician, and as far as we can tell, Brutus is an honorable man. While the play is called Julius Caesar, the real drama is that of Brutus. Karnes captivates.
Jack Powell, who also plays Malvolio in this season’s worthy adaptation of Twelfth Night, takes the role of Cassius. Powell is a master of Shakespeare’s language, turning verse into perfectly intoned conversation. He’s seductive in soliloquy and chilling in the eye (or as the eye) of the storm. Just as we see a marked change in Brutus from the beginning to the end of the play, Cassius also markedly changes, and the change is confusing. It should be confusing, as we can’t quite grasp if Cassius is good or bad or both or neither. He, too, is a complicated character, and somehow, because of his eventual love and loyalty to Brutus (at least insofar as Powell plays Cassius), we end up at the very least not hating him, but rather trying to understand him and his motivations. In this, Powell provokes thought, and his character will no doubt be the topic of conversation after the show….
Others also wow. Cat Thompson as Brutus’ wife, Portia, is strong, striking and seductive and just the kind of woman who would voluntarily stab herself in the thigh and swallow hot coals. William Elsman as Mark Antony, whether in his skivvies, a toga or a uniform, delivers a commanding performance throughout. Again, here’s a character who markedly changes. Elsman proves one hell of an orator as he woos the plebeians and audience with his gripping ‘Friends, Romans, countrymen…’, then displays a vicious man full of ambition, foreshadowing the tumult that follows the end of Act Five. Just have a read of Antony and Cleopatrato know what I mean.
“Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar is a play that compels the audience to concentrate and take notice. If that basic premise of Shakespeare’s beautifully written play can be achieved clearly and precisely, in this perilous first decade of the 21st century, then the job is half done. If it can also be done with style, and a terrifying sense of truth born out of superb acting, then you have a memorable and historical piece of theatre on your hands and Robert Currier’s production at the Dominican’s Forest Meadows Amphitheatre is exactly that….When Jack Powell’s Cassius, and Jay Karnes’s Marcus Brutus, take to the stage, they firmly take control of Shakespeare’s words, and clear intentions, you just know this will be a show to remember, for the simple reason that you are completely taken over by the characters these two gifted actors quietly create….Barry Kraft’s Julius Caesar appears and we see a man who is unsure of himself and a man who has to be reminded of his achievements. Kraft’s Caesar is doomed; you can see it in his eyes and on his face, and in the jokey asides and hand gestures.
This Julius Caesar is a masterpiece….William Elsman’s Mark Antony… is a brilliant, carefully constructed piece of art and craft that works at every level….There is not a single sour note in this show, with brilliant performances by everyone, not least Cat Thompson’s Portia, Alexandra Matthew’s Calphurnia, Stephen Klum’s Casca, Lucas McClure’s Cinna and Young Josh Zwick’s Lucius.…lighting designer, Ellen Brooks, and sound desginer Billie Cox their storms were wonderful. This production, like the others this season, has once again shown that Marin Shakespeare Company can get things right, very right. Go see it.”
– Dave Fickbohm, Theaterkat’s Blog