Rutgers Theater Company presents Shakespeare’s "Julius Caesar" and "As You Like It"

 

Returning from studying abroad at the Rutgers Conservatory at Shakespeare’s Globe in London, the actors of Rutgers Theater Company bring their experiences to the stage with performances of Julius Caesar, running from Thursday, April 20, Saturday, April 22, through Sunday, April 30, 2017, and As You Like It, running from Friday, April 21, through Sunday, April 30, 2017. All performances are at the Philip J. Levin Theater. Please note that all performances of Julius Caesar have been sold out.

The tragedy Julius Caesar, a story of conspiracy and betrayal among prominent politicians of ancient Rome, and the comedy As You Like It, a tale of city versus country living and the search for love in the Forest of Arden, are often thought of as “among Shakespeare’s most masculine and feminine plays, respectively, in the conventional sense of those terms,” says Simon Dormandy, who directs both productions.

So, in a bit of twist, Julius Caesar will be performed with an all-female cast, and As You Like It will be performed by an all-male cast—a decision made, in part, to allow both the actors and the audience to reflect on gender roles and relations, says Dormandy, an actor and teacher based in the United Kingdom who directed the Rutgers students in performances at the Globe.

“As well as opening up the casting in exciting ways, it allows some of the company to explore different gender to their own, which is a valuable and creative experience for any actor,” Dormandy says.

Mason Gross acting students spend several months in London, studying with professional directors, teachers, and masters of textat Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, an international resource dedicated to exploring the playwright’s works.

Bringing what Dormandy calls the “rough-theater magic” of the Globe—a “bare-bones, no-set, no-lighting, minimal-costume ethic”—back home to Rutgers poses particular challenges to both the actors and the team of lighting, set, and costume designers.

“At the Globe, you don’t act for the audience, you act with them,” Dormandy says, citing the open-air theater’s circular design that puts audiences in the center of the action. “You can’t act behind an invisible fourth wall in the Globe; everything happens in the audience’s presence, under shared light, and every thought and action has to be shared with them.”

To preserve this relationship in the enclosed space of Levin Theater, Dormandy says it is crucial to strike a balance between the performance practices students were immersed in in London and the high-tech contemporary production being staged on campus.

“These productions at Rutgers are an experiment in blending the best of both into a mixture that serves the plays,” Dormandy says. “Can we make the audience in a seated auditorium feel like it is part of the swirling life of the plays, as they wheel from city to country, from urban riot to silent night orchard, from peace to war, and from hatred to love?”

In another twist, both plays are being performed in a contemporary American setting, with the city court in As You Like It and Rome in Julius Caesar reimagined as a “sort of dystopian vision of Washington, D.C., today, where democracy is breaking down, and populist demagogues rise to power on the backs of working-class distrust of the elites,” Dormandy says. “The echoes with current events are deliberate.”

With Dormandy’s guidance, the acting company also framed each play with a narrative based on their time in London: Julius Caesar begins with a group of American drama students arriving at the Globe, and As You Like It grows out of their relationships as they explore their new surroundings. Dormandy says that both plays can be understood on their own, but will be most fully enjoyed as two parts of a single story.

For having been written over 400 years ago, the plays remain timeless—and timely, according to Dormandy, who mentions identity and gender issues (As You Like It) and global political turmoil (Julius Caesar) as thoroughly modern themes.

Even with the weighty plotline of Julius Caesar, complete with its forgeries, frightening premonitions, and one very famous murder scene, redemption will come by the end of As You Like It in the linked performances.

“With the student-created framing device and the immersive, rough-theater aesthetic, I think our audiences will mainly go away with an experience of a transformative, exhilarating theatrical experience, full of the cathartic release of both comedy and tragedy,” Dormandy says. “It’s an intensely shared experience of human folly and potential.”

Julius Caesar runs from Friday, April 20, through Sunday, April 30, 2017, with performances at 7:30 p.m. on April 20, 22 (SOLD OUT), 23, 26, 28 (SOLD OUT), and 30. As You Like It runs from Friday, April 21, through Sunday, April 30, 2017, with performances at 7:30 p.m. on April 21, 25, 27, and 29 and at 2 p.m. on April 22, 23, and 30. Please note that all performances of Julius Caesar have been sold out. All performances are at the Philip J. Levin Theater. Tickets are $25 for the general public, $20 for Rutgers alumni and employees and seniors, and only $15 for students with valid ID; a seperate ticket is required for each play and fees may apply. The Philip J. Levin Theater is in the Mason Gross Performing Arts Center, 85 George Street (between Route 18 and Ryders Lane), on the Douglass Campus of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, in New Brunswick. For more information about any Mason Gross event, visit masongross.rutgers.edu or call the Mason Gross Performing Arts Center ticket office at 848-932-7511.

This event is underwritten by the Leora M. Sies Theater Fund Foundation.

Photo of Rutgers students Joey Sponseller (left) and Justin Benjamin Withers performing on the stage of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London by Cesare De Giglio.

Posted April 2017.