The Desert Leaf — October 2016
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Curtain Going Up
Patrick Baliani

God, George Orwell, Great Caesar’s Ghost (not in that order)

First performed in 1599, a year after the “Virgin Queen,” Elizabeth I, acceded to the throne, Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar has been relevant to every age in every corner of the globe ever since. The work is perennially one of the world’s most produced and most widely read plays for many reasons, not the least of which is Shakespeare’s mastery of dramatizing intensely heroic, intimate, individual strife while condensing cataclysmic geopolitical events that forever altered the course of history. And if, as Shakespeare’s Caesar claims, “men construe things after their fashion,” what say we of an all-woman cast in the production of this play today?

As conceived and directed by award-winning playwright and director Michael Fenlasen, Winding Road Theatre Ensemble performs Shakespeare’s classic tragedy of power and ambition with 10 women and no men—a venture with stunning possibilities. The more obvious gender-specific echoes of our own historic presidential election come readily to mind, as do considerations of divergent forces at play in the governing of a republic at large. More intriguingly, Julius Caesar’s emphases— on the merits of ideology, fealties to established order, renunciation of common “truths,” even the role of spouses in political decision making—all gain new dimensions when performed exclusively by women.

“Intellectual ideas in practice produce dramatic unintended consequences,” says Fenlasen, of Shakespeare’s work. Unintended consequences abound significantly when the dramatic possibilities of this particular play are considered in light of contemporary issues, current dichotomies, and an all-female cast.

Additionally, in the nestled space of the Cabaret Theatre at the Temple of Music and Art, this production brings Shakespeare closer to us than is usually the case. This is Roman oration at its finest, rendered in Shakespeare’s richly textured poetry and prose. Only in the U.S. is rhetoric a four-letter word. In Caesar’s day, as well as in Shakespeare’s, the art of persuasion was taught throughout every level of school. Shakespeare’s plays are steeped in it, perhaps none more so than Julius Caesar. The Bard’s genius is that he crafts proposition, exhortation, refutation— the literal instruments of power—into unforgettable drama.

Julius Caesar is beautifully balanced and stark, as well as nuanced— a theatrical tour de force that makes you think as well as feel, deeply. In Fenlasen’s hands thought and emotion are potently entwined. Look for fascinating performances by Susan Arnold (Caesar), T. Loving (Brutus), Maryann Green (Antony), Amy Scully (Cassius), Shanna Brock (Octavius), among others. At the Temple of Music and Art Cabaret Theatre, Oct. 20–Nov. 5. (windingroadtheatre. Org or 401-3626)

A modern classic, also exquisitely relevant this fall, George Orwell’s Animal Farm becomes a fusion of language, song, movement, and visual art when performed by Artifact Dance Project in collaboration with the Tucson Girls Chorus and mezzo-soprano Korby Myrick, at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). Musician and art historian Kevin Justus collaborated with choreographer and Artifact artistic director Ashley Bowman to adapt the story especially for dance, especially for performance at MOCA. According to Bowman, “It’s haunting, dark, filled with crushed hopes and dreams, yet communicates so much about human nature and sentiments. Dance is perfect for this type of narrative.”

Ten Artifact professional dancers, choreographed to perform inside a 30' x 20' set piece filled with dirt, bring this “pig pen” to life with contemporary ballet, Bowman's favorite medium. Pianist Mary Turcotte, who performed brilliantly in the Artifact Dance Project/ Rogue Theatre production Tales of the Jazz Age and Artifact’s 4 x 4 Summer Intensive Showcase, will be joined by cello and violin, with music by Mozart, Pergolesi, Beethoven, and Schubert. Collaboration—at the heart of Artifact’s mission—further extends here to include Marcela Molina, accomplished director of the Tucson Girls Chorus. “Marcela and I have been wanting to collaborate for some time,” says Bowman. “I am grateful for the immense amount of talent in the room surrounding Animal Farm.” Yes, some productions are more equal than others. Artifact Dance Project’s Animal Farm is one of them. At MOCA, 265 S. Church Ave., Oct. 6–9. (artifactdanceproject.org or 235-7638)

In its 50th Anniversary season, Arizona Theatre Company presents An Act of God, the Broadway hit by 13-time Emmy Award-winner David Javerbaum. The stage play is adapted from Javerbaum’s The Last Testament: A Memoir by God, which features, well, God. Turns out God has a great sense of humor, among other overlooked qualities. At the Temple of Music and Art, Oct. 22–Nov. 12. (arizonatheatre.org or 622-2823)

Another golden milestone: UA Presents features “Twyla Tharpe 50th Anniversary Tour,” Oct. 9. Enjoy contemporary dance from a legendary choroeographer, at Centennial Hall, UA campus. (uapresents.org or 621-3341)

Also at Centennial Hall on the UA campus is Mamma Mia!, a farewell tour. A presentation of Broadway in Tucson, this popular musical about love, laughter and friendship incorporates the greatest hits of the '70s Swedish pop group ABBA. Oct. 21–23. (broadwayintucson. Com, 1-811-821-2929 (season tix), 1-800-745-3000)

Live Theatre Workshop depicts the struggles of a boy prodigy in conflict with family, community, and a traditional upbringing in My Name Is Asher Lev, by Aaron Posner, adapted from the novel by Chaim Potok. Potok is best known for his book The Chosen, which sold millions of copies and was on The New York Times’s best seller list for months. Lev Asher follows the title character’s maturation as an artist and Hasidic Jew growing up in Brooklyn. Oct. 6–Nov. 9. (livetheatreworkshop. Org or 327-4242)

Comedy comes alive! The Gaslight Theatre continues its uproarious run of Frankenstein, through Nov. 19. (thegaslighttheatre. Com or 886-9428)

Christian Youth Theatre presents good, old fashioned fun in Bye-Bye Birdie, the popular satire about a rock-androller inducted into the army, with musical theatre favorites “Put on a Happy Face,” “A Lot of Livin’ To Do,” and “What Did I Ever See in Him?” Oct. 28–30 at Pima Community College Center for the Arts. (ctytucson.org or 370-4000)

The women who dare at Something Something Theatre continue to provoke and engage with Body Awareness, by Annie Baker, directed by Joan O’Dwyer (previewed in last Month’s column). It bears repeating: they dare you to attend. Through Oct. 16. (somethingsomethingtheatre.com or 468-6111)

Epic Proportions (previewed last month), set on a 1930s Arizona movie set, continues at the Arizona Repertory Theatre at the Marroney Theatre on the UA campus, through Oct. 9. (theatre. Arizona.edu or 621-1162)

Diversity and provocation—tragedy, comedy, melodrama, satire, the classics, the contemporary—are all here on stage in October. The fault, dear readers, if you are not thoroughly engaged in theatres this month, lies not in our stars.

Patrick Baliani is a Tucson playwright and professor of interdisciplinary studies at the University of Arizona Honors College. Email theatre news to him at curtain@desertleaf.com. Comments for publication should be addressed to letters@desertleaf.com
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