As Town Center Theatre’s Managing Director, Aaron Stryk, correctly pointed out when greeting me at the entrance to The Nancy Bock Center for the Performing Arts, it was the kind of lovely spring Sunday afternoon that would not encourage local residents to head indoors for the matinee of TCT’s current production of “Julius Caesar.” Minutes before show time, the sparsely populated auditorium housed an audience of fewer than two dozen patrons in a room designed for several hundred. Nevertheless, a brave cast of talented TCT actors was about to carry on.
As a New York native myself, the austere and striking set (designer, Trey Otis) seemed like two massive sections of the Brooklyn Bridge that were separated by just enough time and space to dramatically frame this classic drama, while the shadowy lighting from designer, Andrew Ruthven, added to the impact. These elements served in a unique way to complement the play’s contemporary setting in the present day corporate board rooms of Wall Street. This adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic play was conceived and directed by Chris Tennison. He has been quoted describing Shakespeare’s tale of Caesar’s assassination as an examination of,
“…fate versus free will, personal loyalty versus the good of the public, and the effect of greed and envy on the human condition.” It would seem that Tennison may be a prophet in his own time as the production was planned last year before Wall Street greed and corruption brought the nation to its economic knees. Indeed, had it not been for Hurricane Ike last September, the play would have been presented last season.
While the contemporary concept was intriguing, I confess to a certain prejudice in favor of the ancient Roman setting. After all, hadn’t I just the night before subjected myself without complaint to my umpteenth Turner Classics viewing of William Wyler’s, “Ben-Hur?” Now, in this contemporized production, we have a cast of men and women largely dressed in the dark suits typical of Wall Street. This costuming (designer, Macy Perrone) did not lend itself to visual appeal on the stage, nor did the fact that the play was frequently staged more like a reading with large groups of people standing in static positions, and little movement of any kind. It was often as though we were looking at frozen tableaus, or publicity stills for the production. That approach can be sleep-inducing for an audience attending a play that requires focused attention just to keep pace with the classic prose of the piece.
For reasons I shall describe later, I will not attempt here to give detailed analysis of the individual performances. The actors* were collectively impressive with their memorization of the extensive dialogue. Many, but not all, could be plainly heard in spite of the apparent lack of microphones, and an unseen “announcer” who prepped the audience a bit before the show had a particularly impressive voice. Effective original musical interludes (Franz Hill) accompanied the brief moments between scenes, but the set and limited scenery never change except for the effective lighting of Mr. Ruthven.
Now for the bad news which had nothing to do with the earnest efforts of the hardworking cast. Seated in the last row of the front center section of the audience were two of the rudest and most annoying young ladies imaginable. These young women appeared to be of high school age, and I have absolutely no idea why they were in attendance. They certainly had no interest in Shakespeare’s play, let alone any knowledge of common courtesy at a performance. They giggled and chatted unceasingly, while intermittently popping gum and drinking out of a 16 ounce soda can that should not have been in the room. They were such a distraction a few rows behind me that I could not even properly focus on what was being presented. It was perhaps two-thirds of the way through Act One when I determined I was going to simply leave the theatre. I was rescued seconds later when these two morons got up and left. It was one of the most infuriating episodes I can recall in the theatre. But wait, it wasn’t over.
I reviewed some of the program’s details during intermission, and as Act Two approached, the dwindling audience reassembled. Just then the two girls in question returned, set themselves up in two seats a bit further back, and began chatting and laughing again while apparently opening some noisy bags of chips. That was it for me. I knew I would never see Act Two. If I had had a knife hidden my toga I would have used it right then and there. Instead, I opted for packing my notebook into my briefcase and headed for the emergency exit. This was, after all, an emergency. A short time later I was recovering with a good book in a chaise beside sunny Lake Woodlands.
*Cast Members include Hilary Bryant, Joey Milillo, Noe Mendoza, Rachel Moore, Rebecca Cansler, Jordan Muller, Julie Fontenot, Brandon Michael Osborn, and Alan Martin, with Travis Bryant as Marcus Brutus, Amber Bennett as Caius Cassius, Ben Warner as Mark Antony, Kim Bryant as Portia, and Jacob Millwee as Casca.
Final Performances of Julius Caesar at the Nancy Bock Center for the Performing Arts will be this Friday, April 2nd at 8 p.m. and next Sunday, April 4th at 2:30 p.m. For tickets and information call 832-592-9697.