Thanks to an imaginative twist, this new production of a Shakespeare standard offers new meaning to a classical text. Although it’s not without problematic habits…
Review by Lucy Griffin
Theatre Unleashed”™s production of an all-women cast of Julius Caesar starts before you walk in the door, with women milling about offering yellow ribbons of war remembrance, all coiffed hair and red lips.Â Almost immediately you are introduced to the concept.Â Taking place in the 1940s a small group of women sift through their war torn lives by taking on the Bard.Â While their husbands are away fighting a war, they have found a way to cope by performing in a community theatre performance of William Shakespeare”™s Julius Caesar, with the women playing the men’s roles in their absence. Placing the text within a conceptual mise en abyme (where the core of the narrative is used to elucidate some aspect of the frame story – basically a play within a play) at first seemed unnecessary to me. It’s a ploy I deemed gimmicky unless created by the man himself, as seen in Midsummer”™s Night Dream and Hamlet.
This tender rendition, however, began to make sense as the actors made their way through the beautifully rewarding yet daunting task of delivering Shakespeare.Â At the end of Act 1, following the infamous death of Caesar, a slap happy Cassius proclaims his glee over the self-gratifying idea that, “How many ages hence shall this, our lofty scene, be acted over in states unborn and accents yet unknown?”Â The irony is evident.Â Simple and yet constantly cyclical, herein lies the concept of the play within the play.
My issues with the performance were the common problems often suffered in a Shakespeare presentation. When performing the work one doesn”™t need twitches, gimmicks or tricks.Â The words are enough.Â While the actors seemed to have a grasp of the character work, the language was lost by some, either to lazy tongues or lack of thought behind Shakespeare”™s complex phrases.Â Each actor had a moment where they lost connection with the words and when performing Shakespeare that can alienate your audience in a snap.Â Nevertheless, a sufficient amount of the work was satisfactory, especially that of Julia Plostnieks, whose raw and masterful approach to the language began in the preshow”™s setting up the scene sequence and whose grounded energy right off the bat had me betting “she”™s Brutus.”Â I was right.
Plostnieks”™ performance of the honorable Brutus was refreshingly full of clarity and gave added depth to the concept. You could feel Brutus fighting the moral turmoil in his head and suffering from the death of his loved ones, and for what?Â Plostnieks alone gave director Vance Roi Reyes”™ concept meaning, illuminating a woman”™s struggle to make sense of the possible loss of her husband in what has become a senseless war to the families that just long to be whole again.Â I also feel I should point out the performance of Heather Lake.Â Hers was an interesting one full of daring choices and nuances.Â While some choices didn”™t work, others offered new meaning to this centuries old text, simply by the actor”™s choice to take two steps forward or turn her head and such.
All in all, the actors needed to work the heightened language harder and convey the meaning better and many in this female cast lacked full commitment to the text. There was however, good stagecraft and I give lauds to the company for the ability to tell a tale oft told in a way that I had never seen nor heard before.
A note to the wise – it”™s chilly in there, so bring a jacket.
Theatre Unleashed at Studio/Stage
520 N. Western Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90004
Runs until June 18, 2011
Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm
Approximately 2 hours 40 minutes, including a 15 minute intermission
***$1.00 from every ticket will be donated to the Susan G Komen Walk for the Cure.
818 849 4039
“At its core, the mission of Theatre Unleashed is simple: to work together as one, passionately and professionally, in creating truly remarkable theatre”¦”