Monday, July 22, 2013

Animal Fire Theatre’s Julius Caesar

 Political intrigue and murder on the Capitol Campus

Ryan Holmberg and Katy Dixon

Rick Pearlstein and Ryan Holmberg

Kate Arvin and Morgan Picton. Photos by David Nowitz
Animal Fire Theatre’s Shakespeare in the Park has moved from Priest Point Park to the Washington State Capital Campus. This year’s production is the historical play Julius Caesar directed by Jenny Greenlee.

Near the Korean War Memorial stands a maze of platforms and wall-like structures that was once a water feature but hasn’t been used as such for decades. It makes for an ideal stage for a play set in ancient Rome. Actors are able to enter and exit from a myriad of directions and dramatically climb over and about the many layered structure. The setting and lighting courtesy of the sun provided for a happy byproduct of an outdoor performance that I was able to enjoy—at one point in particular opening night when the sun happened to be low on the horizon as Anthony (Kate Arvin) was giving a speech from one of the higher platforms. She was majestic against a blue sky and cast a strong shadow that resulted in a scene more dramatic than it could have been if staged indoors with professional lighting. The same setting was also ideal for the appearance of the spirit of Caesar (Scott Douglas) high and distant against the sky after his death.

Intrigue, ambition, jealousy and murder have been integral to politics as long as men have sought power, and no writer has looked at it with such honesty, insight and poetry as William Shakespeare. The plotting and the murder of Caesar resonates in today’s world as much as it did 400 years ago when Shakespeare wrote the play.

Animal Fire Theatre presents this play in modern garb with knives for swords, and in a refreshing twist with women playing two of the pivotal roles that have traditionally been played by men: Anthony and Brutus (Katy Dixon). The gender role reversals seem natural. In fact, when Anthony speaks of her love for Caesar and Brutus speaks of her love for Cassius (Ryan Holmberg) it takes on a romantic cast that is not there when they are all men, and it seems even more pertinent and real. I do have to admit, however, that since I know at least some of the words and tend to mentally say them along with the actors it is somewhat jarring when, for instance, Anthony keeps repeating that Brutus was an honorable woman. It doesn’t seem unnatural or wrong; it’s just jarring to my expectations.

Douglas is physically well cast as Caesar. He has a majestic appearance and the deep, resonant voice of a man so proud as to think of himself as a god.

The leading roles are those of Anthony, Brutus and Cassius—and Arvin, Dixon and Holmberg are each riveting in these roles. Holmberg slides effortlessly in and out of snide and tender remarks, and fierce anger with appropriate changes of voice, especially when he is mocking others. And speaking of fierceness, if anyone thinks women cannot play strong warriors, Arvin and Dixon’s performances should once and for all put that notion to rest.

The supporting cast was very good. Morgan Picton played strong roles as a Trebonius, Lucilius and the soothsayer (if I had been Caesar, his “Beware the Ides of March” would have scared the hell out of me). Tim Samland portrayed Decius Brutus and Octavius with just the right touch of madness. Rick Pearlstein was also a standout in multiple roles, most notably as Casca.

Come prepared. Portable lawn & camp chairs or pillows are recommended for the two and a half hour show with no intermission, and mosquito repellent may be a good idea although we had no need on opening night. And if our typical Olympia weather holds up during the run of the play you should probably come in summer clothes but bring an overshirt. And know that there will probably be distractions from overhead airplanes, bicyclists and skateboarders. Just take the distractions in stride and pay attention to the play. The play’s the thing.

Performances are scheduled to run Thursdays through Sundays, through Aug. 5. All performances will be at 6:30 P.M. Information about how to park for free or use Intercity Transit’s Dash Shuttle is available on the company’s website:

1 comment:

Chiquita said...

This is gorgeous!