Theatre Department brings ‘Caesar’ into today
April 26, 2011Tweet
For Michael Toomey, “museum theater” with actors wearing “pumpkin pants” holds little appeal.
“I’ve found it can actually distance people from a play,” said Toomey, a visiting assistant professor who is directing the Theatre Department’s production of Julius Caesar. “I always want to (examine) what a play has to do with a contemporary audience. Instead of them asking the question, ‘What does this 400-year-old play about Rome have to do with me?’ they can already make the connection.”
Toomey’s contemporary take on Julius Caesar will be on the Watters Theater stage at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, April 29-30 and May 6-7, and 2 p.m. May 1 and May 8. A “talkback” session for audience members will take place after the May 1 matinee. Tickets are $14, general admission; $12, faculty/staff/seniors; and $8 for students ($5 for students on opening night). Tickets can be purchased by calling the Anderson Center Box Office at 777-ARTS or by visiting http://anderson.binghamton.edu.
William Shakespeare’s tragedy deals with the assassination of the Roman leader Caesar (played by Bobby Daglio) and the eventual defeat of his conspirators – Marcus Brutus and Cassius (RJ McGhee and Ben Williamson) - on the battlefield. Even casual Shakespeare and theater fans are familiar with some of the play’s signature moments, such as Caesar exclaiming “Et tu, Brute?” and Mark Antony’s “Friends, Romans” speech.
Toomey makes the Roman world contemporary by placing its inhabitants in suits, ties and other modern clothing. This actually brings the characters closer to Shakespeare’s own vision, as his actors also wore the clothing of the day when the play was originally presented.
“What we find is a world where they do wear suits and ties, but also cloaks that are toga-esque,” said Toomey, who is also a member of Shakespeare and Company in Lenox, Mass., and directed an all-female version of Henry V on campus last spring. “It’s a nod to Rome. … I think we are doing something closer to what Shakespeare was doing with his audiences than if we were to put our students in pumpkin pants today.”
The play’s examination of nationalism and democracy continue to resonate, Toomey said.
“There’s something about Rome that keeps coming back,” he said. “It’s in the architecture of Washington and London. The politics aren’t that different, either. The rhetoric is definitely the same as what is in the play. And it’s in the headlines now: toppling dictators, what that means and what people have to go through.”
Shakespeare also succeeds in Caesar by presenting real people struggling in the love of their country and families, Toomey said.
“It’s more complicated than good guys and bad guys,” he said. “You can’t say Caesar is only doing something for personal reasons or is a cruel dictator, because (Shakespeare) gives you both sides of that. It’s the same with Brutus and Cassius. Shakespeare is giving us real people.”
Toomey praised the Caesar cast for its ensemble work, saying it is a group whose members are always willing to support each other.
“This cast doesn’t leave the stage much,” he said. “They are creating the environments, doing the fights, climbing the structures and helping to tell the story. They are willing to come in and stand like a statue for a half-hour so their fellow actors can figure out what this world is. That’s a lot to ask of actors.”
For some of the cast members, Caesar not only represents their final act on the Watters stage, but is the culmination of what they have learned in the Theatre Department.
“It’s been a blessing,” said Williamson, a senior. “This play will be with me forever. The world we’ve created with this is the most beautiful skin I’ve ever seen. To be with this group of people and to find things and to let them bloom is unbelievable. This play is so now.”
“My theater experience has opened up my imagination,” said senior Rachel Borbas, who plays Portia. “The training we’ve gotten at Binghamton doesn’t place any limits on you. Binghamton treats you as an artist and wants you to explore and discover, not ‘stand here and say this line this way.’ It’s wonderful to be given that kind of trust.”
Senior Wendy Abels, who plays Casca, agreed with Borbas.
“The freedom we have here has given me the ability to trust myself as an artist and a person,” she said. “With this production, I’m going to take away the idea of being part of an ensemble and giving yourself not only to the audience, but to everyone onstage you are working with. We are creating together and telling a story we love and are passionate about.”