Power, identity & politics: Women come out from behind the men in the potent, thoughtful Portia’s Julius Caesar

Nikki Duval & Christine Horne. Set & costume design by Rachel Forbes. Lighting design by Jareth Li. Photo by Dahlia Katz.

 

Shakespeare’s women continue to take centre stage this summer—this time, with Shakespeare in the Ruff’s production of AD Kaitlyn Riordan’s Portia’s Julius Caesar, a potent and thoughtful adaptation of Julius Caesar from the point of view of the women in this story. The sharply wrought script weaves the text woven from 17 Shakespeare plays, four sonnets and a poem with new dialogue—and the women behind the men come to the fore as they wrestle with their own issues of identity, power and justice. Directed by Eva Barrie, Portia’s Julius Caesar is currently running outdoors in Toronto’s Withrow Park.

While all of Rome celebrates Caesar’s (Jeff Yung) triumphant return from a successful campaign against the sons of Pompey, his wife Calpurnia (Nikki Duval) confides in her bosom friend Portia, wife to Brutus (Christine Horne), regarding her concerns over their lack of an heir and Caesar’s relationship with the legendary Cleopatra, who she fears may usurp her. Nursing a newborn son herself, Portia is supportive and optimistic for her friend’s chances of bearing a child; but soon finds herself uneasy in her own marriage as Brutus (Adriano Sobretodo Jr.) becomes increasingly distant and absent from their home.

Meanwhile, some in Rome are troubled by Caesar’s desire for a crown, which he hides with false humility; and there are those who fear that the republic may become a monarchy ruled by a boisterous, boasting tyrant. Among these are Servilia (Deborah Drakeford), Brutus’s imperious power-brokering mother and Cassius (Kwaku Okyere), Brutus’s friend—who both fan his deep concerns over Caesar’s popularity and hunger for power. Choosing his love of Rome over his love of Caesar, Brutus joins Cassius and a group of like-minded conspirators in a deadly plan to put a stop to Caesar’s rise to power. Hiding in the shadows to learn what is afoot, Portia catches wind of the plan; now faced with wanting to warn her friend Calpurnia but not betray her husband, she goes to Calpurnia with a story of a dream of Caesar’s bloody statue. Coupled with the Soothsayer’s (Tahirih Vejdani) recent warning, Calpurnia attempts to stop Caesar from going to the Senate on that fateful day—even after Brutus has persuaded him to do so—but fails to convince.

The actions that follow create a heartbreaking rift between Calpurnia and Portia, and make for additional tragedy in this tale of power, propaganda and loyalty. Portia fears for her life and that of her son when Marc Antony (Giovanni Spina) turns the people against Brutus, Cassius and their fellow assassins. Returning home to find Brutus gone, Portia learns that Servilia has secreted their son away to keep him safe. But how safe can anyone be in these chaotic, bloody times? In the end, the living are left to mourn their dead—and judge themselves for their actions in the outcome.

Remarkable work from Duval and Horne as Calpurnia and Portia; friends of their own accord, with a relationship separate from that of their husbands, these women truly love, nurture and support each other. Duval gives a moving performance as Calpurnia; an intelligent woman, well aware of her husband’s station and rise to power, Calpurnia beats herself up for not having children and blames herself for his womanizing. And seeing her friend nurse her baby makes Calpurnia want a child even more. Horne deftly mines Portia’s internal conflict as a contented, happy mother and supportive wife and friend whose reach only goes so far. Portia simply can’t wait on the sidelines when she knows that something serious is afoot with Brutus—and her insistence that he confide in her comes from a genuine desire to help. Longing to not only do their duty, but be real, invested partners to their husbands, Calpurnia and Portia can only respond as events emerge—and do what they believe is right under the circumstances. Drakeford gives a striking performance as the sharp-witted, intimidating yet vulnerable Servilia. Unable to wield direct political power herself, Servilia employs what influence she has to persuade individuals and manage events; and with no female role models at the time, she appears to model her behaviour after that of powerful men—perhaps finding herself at odds with her natural instincts.

The outstanding ensemble also includes a Young Ruffian Chorus (Troy Sarju, Sienna Singh and Jahnelle Jones-Williams); and the male actors also portray the various washerwomen—as women and slaves, they represent the lowest among the 99% in Rome. Okyere’s fiery, volatile, hasty Cassius is the perfect foil to Sobretodo’s cool, diplomatic, calculating Brutus. Spina does a great job balancing Antony’s fired-up warrior and eloquent orator; and, in addition to the enigmatic Soothsayer, Vejdani gives us a playful and seductive Casca, a Roman courtesan in this adaptation whose part in the plot includes distracting Antony from the impending plot against Caesar.

Portia’s Julius Caesar continues at Withrow Park (in the space just south of the washrooms) until September 3, with performances at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday (no show on August 27, but there will be a special Labour Day performance on Sept 3); the show runs 110 minutes, with no intermission. Tickets are PWYC at the venue (cash only: $20 suggested); advance tickets available online for $20 (regular) or $30 (includes camp chair rental).

Bring a blanket, beach towel or chair; bug spray also recommended. Concerned about the possible impact of weather conditions on a performance? Keep an eye out on Shakespeare in the Ruff’s Twitter feed or Facebook page for updates and cancellations.

In the meantime, check out this insightful and revealing Toronto Star piece by Carly Maga about the show, including an interview with AD/playwright Kaitlyn Riordan.

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Outdoor (& inexpensive) Shakespeare in & around Toronto

You don’t have to schlep to the Stratford Festival or spend a lot of money to see some great Shakespeare this summer. Check out these local productions, running under the stars…

Canadian Stage’s annual Shakespeare in High Park: Romeo & Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream—running now in rep to Sept 2 in Toronto’s High Park. PWYC ($20 suggested) at the door or advance reserve premium seats online.

Dauntless City Theatre’s Bard in Berczy: Much Ado About Nothing—running Aug 3 – 26 in Toronto’s Berczy Park (near St. Lawrence Market, that park with the cool dog-themed fountain). PWYC.

Driftwood Theatre Group’s Bard’s Bus Tour: Rosalynde (or, As You Like It)running nowall over Ontario till Aug 12, including two performances in Toronto at Ontario Place Trillium Park. Free or PWYC (see the schedule for details).

Shakespeare in the Ruff presents AD Kaitlyn Riordan’s radical adaptation of Julius Caesar: Portia’s Julius Caesar—running Aug 16 to Sept 3 in Toronto’s Withrow Park. PWYC ($20 suggested); reserve $20-$30.

 

Shakesbeers Showdown 2018: Meet contestants Kaitlyn Riordan & Chanakya Mukherjee

 

Aaand our next intrepid contestants for First Folio supremacy in Shakesbeers Showdown 2018: Jurassic BARD hail from team Shakespeare in the Ruff. Introducing Kaitlyn Riordan (aka Kaitlyn “Frickin” Riordan, or maybe that’s just me) and Chanakya Mukherjee!

Kaitlyn-Riordan-10483-8x10-e1513023135751Contestant: Kaitlyn Riordan

Team: Shakespeare in the Ruff

Favourite play from the Shakespeare canon: Hamlet

Favourite character from the canon that you’ve played so far: Ophelia

Dream role from the canon: Henry V

 

Chanakya_Mukherjee_HeadshotContestant: Chanakya Mukherjee

Team: Shakespeare in the Ruff

Favourite play from the Shakespeare canon: Coriolanus

Favourite character from the canon that you’ve played so far: Pompey (Measure for Measure)

Dream role from the canon: Romeo

 

Advance tickets for Shakesbeers Showdown 2018: Jurassic BARD are available online.

Shakesbeers Showdown 2018: Meet contestant Kate McArthur

 

Spur of the Moment Shakespeare Collective is back with its 7th annual battle for First Folio supremacy with Shakesbeers Showdown 2018: Jurassic BARD on April 27 at the 918 Bathurst Centre for Culture, Arts, Media and Education. Team contestants will face off in cold reads from the notoriously hard to read First Folio—and the winner will be dubbed Shakesbeers Showdown Heavyweight Champion! Oh, and did I mention, there will be beer. Lots and lots of beer!

Competing this year are:
Spur-Of-The-Moment Shakespeare Collective
Shakey-Shake and Friends Theatre Company
Shakespeare in the Ruff
Skipping Stones Theatre
Theatre By Committee
Shakespeare BASH’d
Theatre ARTaud
Stratford Festival
The Reviewers (I’ll try to find out which ones)
The People (comprised of individual contestants competing without a company)

I’ll be posting contestants’ responses to three rapid fire questions as I receive them, up until the battle begins. Here we go with our first contestant…

Kate McArthur HeadshotContestant: Kate McArthur
Team: Shakespeare BASH’d

Favourite play from the Shakespeare canon: Twelfth Night
Favourite character from the canon that you’ve played so far: Malvolio
Dream role from the canon: I’ve got something more like a top five…or ten. I usually just say “Whichever I am playing next!” Yeah, yeah. That’s a cop out. But for now, let’s go with Hamlet, because I can’t make a decision and won’t stop talking.

Advance tickets for Shakesbeers Showdown 2018: Jurassic BARD are available online.

Rowdy & rollicking romance with Two Gents

Went to see the delightful outdoor production of Two Gents in Withrow Park last night, Shakespeare in the Ruff’s adaptation of Two Gentlemen of Verona, the company’s inaugural season, which included a six-week youth apprenticeship program for secondary students, The Young Ruffians.

As an added treat, before Two Gents, the audience got to see the first performance of a short piece created by The Young Ruffians, inspired by their participation in the program. A hilarious and satirical look at a young classical theatre company, with a put-upon stage manager, self-involved actors and a plot to become the greatest Shakespeare company in the world. Best line: “Trees are nature’s balcony.” Nice work from the Ruffians!

Adapted by Andrew Joseph Richardson with Jonathan Seinen and Brendan McMurty-Howlett, and directed by company A.D. McMurty-Howlett (with Diane D’Aquila as Consulting Director), Two Gents is a tale of young – and sometimes fickle – love, youth coming of age, separation and betrayal. Set in 1880s Canada, the scenes shift from Verona, Ontario to Milan (pronounced “Millen”), Manitoba – with Sylvia’s Duke father revised to be her Duchess mother and winding down with a more socially savoury ending.

The outstanding company for this production includes David Patrick Flemming (Speed, Thurio & Don Antonio), Jesse Griffiths (Valentine), Adrian Morningstar (Proteus), Kaitlyn Riordan (Sylvia & Lucetta), Andrew Joseph Richardson (Launce & Sir Eglamour), Lesley Robertson (Julia) and Trudy Weiss (Duchess), with Launce’s dog played by the adorable Chocolate (with dog wrangler/mom Sarah Hayward), one of the five dogs on the company’s cast roster.

Stand-outs for me were Riordan’s lovely, strong and loyal Sylvia, a young woman torn between duty to her mother and her love of Valentine; Flemming’s irreverent, mercurial and wise-cracking servant Speed; Morningstar’s smooth, scheming and fickle romantic young noble Proteus; and Richardson’s sweet, goofy and dog-loving servant Launce.

I won’t give away the revised ending – you’ll have to go see it for yourself. I will say that all is not forgiven so easily and the rewritten text is from Shakespeare, including the lovely Sonnet #116.

You have two more chances to see Two Gents: tonight and tomorrow night at Withrow Park – 7:30 p.m. Admission is pay what you can, with $15 suggested. If you go tonight (Sat, Sept 1), get there early to see The Young Ruffians perform their final show at 7:00 p.m.

For more info on Two Gents and Shakespeare in the Ruff, please visit their website: http://www.shakespeareintheruff.com/