Press and Reviews for LGA Production of Julius Caesar:
Caesar Perked Up. Et tu?
Level Ground Arts manages to keep you awake in its "Julius Caesar."
by Mark Lowry
February 20 - March 7 at Dallas Hub Theater 2809 Canton St. Dallas, TX 75226
8:15pm Feb. 27-28 at Dallas Hub; 8pm March 5-6 at Runway Theater.
Is Shakespeare hot again? How else might one explain the New York Times theater critics raving over (and recommending) recent NYC productions of Willy Shakes' The Winter's Tale and Othello? Of course, the man never goes out of fashion. But it is often difficult to weed the good from the multitude of average-to-bad attempts at the Bard.
Enter new troupe Level Ground Arts, which is staging a Julius Caesar that isn't wholly transformative, but it is interesting enough to keep theatergoers on seat's edge. That's saying something for a play that is required reading in high school mainly because nobody is masochistic enough to make it required viewing on stage. As a live experience, it can be dullsville.
Maybe we just haven't seen the perfect version. Still haven't, but the LGA version, directed by Bill Fountain, strives for greatness. It has been running for a good month at various area locales, and continues this weekend at the Dallas Hub Theatre and next week at Grapevine's Runway Theatre.
The setup been done before, and is usually on the hokey side. But it works here. Actress Jennifer Obeney enters and claims that everyone in the cast has called in sick. Nonetheless, the show must go on. She implores members of the audience to help her act out this little skit. She people she brings up are, duh, the show's real actors. They are dazed and confused, but one-by-one start speaking the verse, as if caught up in a soothsayer's magic spell. Obeney transforms into Cassius, Ken Long is Caesar (an emperor who looks like he stepped out of Waiting for Godot), Zac Ramsey becomes Brutus and Robert Shores turns into Marc Antony. Some of them, and everyone else in the ensemble, take on multiple roles, without regard to gender. (Probably so that women actors can take on male roles of a canon not big on female parts.)
It is a gimmick, yes, but it also allows these contemporary-looking actors (the Brutus/Marc faceoff is like emo boy vs. metalhead) to focus on the language, which is mostly spoken naturally and unobtrusively by this cast (Ramsey and Obeney are standouts). That alone wouldn't be enough, but Fountain keeps things lively with a variety of low-budget but striking stagecraft tricks, such as a live percussion sountrack with the weapon of choice, a wood pipe. Dramatic lighting, shadow play and ensemble chanting create a thrilling experience.
All of these elements help the conspiracy build, ending with an emotional payoff. Can't really ask for much more. Except for not being put to sleep.
Making Shakespeare relevant
Director pares illusions from 'Julius Caesar'
By KAREN SHADE World Scene Writer Published: 1/27/2009 2:22 AM
Dallas-based theater artist Bill Fountain asked himself a question before deciding to hit the road with "Julius Caesar." "If you went out right now, plucked 10 people off the street, took them into a room and downloaded 'Caesar' into their brains, what would happen?" he proposed in a recent phone interview.
In rehearsal, it looks like this: 10 actors, largely from the Dallas/Fort Worth community theater scene, holding up lights and sheets, batting sticks together and staying within constant view of the audience. They switch in and out of the more than three dozen roles comprising the character list of Shakespeare's historical drama. Women also play men's roles.
It's a production that goes to the basics of theater to render a portrait of humans, which Fountain said often goes hidden beneath laurels and togas. It's a staging that's also been a long time coming for the director and playwright. "I've been reading the play since I was about 8," he said. "Every time I read it, I find something new to appreciate in it. It's one of those works that it kind of haunts you."
Wherever it goes, "Julius Caesar" has relevance for today's world in at least one respect, Fountain said. Caesar's Rome was a dangerous place to be, with a single thread holding that world from dissipating into chaos. Some 2,000 years later, the times haven't changed much, he added. By breaking down theatrical illusions further — say the representational sets, flowing costumes and the line between center stage and backstage — the relevance, he hopes, becomes more apparent.
Ultimately, however, it comes down to the words and allowing the actors space to bring out characteristics and traits that make Cassius, Brutus and Mark Antony look more human and less like statuary. Fountain said most productions of "Julius Caesar" that he has seen rarely get to the core of what makes the drama most compelling.
"It's a play that has always bothered me. And by 'bothered' what I mean is it's a play that I feel like every single time I've seen it performed, with very few exceptions, I really felt like we weren't getting it." He said he's also bothered by gimmicks such as rewording the play into more contemporary English.
"There seems to be a tendency in recent times to try and make Shakespeare accessible," he said, "for lack of a better word, by either dumbing it down or saying, 'We're going to put Shakespeare on the moon.' " Fountain would never be the one to say his vision of "Julius Caesar" is the only way to look at the play.
"My hope is that we'll offer a 'Caesar' that would be engaging to an audience, that would open up a dialogue with the audience — that the audience is going to go away from it and say, 'Let's go somewhere and talk about that,' instead of a clap and it ends and they forget it."
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Level Ground Arts kicks off local tour of Julius Caesar this weekend
By Shawn Parikh
Bill Fountain is doing something quite ambitious with his newest Level Ground Arts' production. Fountain has always been quite the multitasker and hard-worker when it comes to the theatre scene, and this week, he will prove his talent with Julius Caesar. The show will tour through 4 different venues in the metroplex, as well as hit Tulsa, Oklahoma for a performance.
Beware the Ides of March: This is a fascinating and engaging performance of the classic text with a brand new twist. There are only ten actors and literally an army of characters! There is no backstage. The actors do everything. They create the lights. They create the sound. They become the scenery. Our “Caesar” is a living, breathing theatrical experience. Jjoin us for a look at Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, as you have never seen it before. Dircted and staged by Bill Fountain, the cast includes Ken Long, Desiree Fultz, Elizabeth Fountain, Krishna Smitha, Zac Ramsey, Francis Henry, Jordan Pokladnik, Jennifer Obeney, and Robert Shores.
This weekend, the show will kick off its run at the Lancaster Theater in Grapevine and will perform Friday evenings, January 30th and February 13th at 8 p.m. with Sunday matinees on February 1st and February 15th. In between these performances, they will perform at the Grapevine Botanical Garden Stage on Friday and Saturday evenings, February 6th and 7th, at 7:30 p.m.
Then, the show will travel to Dallas Hub Theater in Dallas and performs Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from February 19 - 28 at 7:30 p.m. Finally, the show will end its run at Runway Theatre in Grapevine on Thursday and Friday evenings, March 6th and 7th at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets are only $10 and will be available at the door.
Praise for Caesar (Quotes from our audience):
“From the beginning the show was magical. Many shows/opera are updated for the sake of updating, but this was a purposeful update of show that created an amazing piece.”
“The show at as a whole was overwhelming and amazing. This show gives me hope about the arts.”
“The arts are alive in this show. This is what art is really about. Purposeful, artful, the true meaning of theatre.”
“Overwhelmingly wonderful. The vision of the director moved this piece and his vision was evident.”
“There are not enough words to describe the intensity and brilliance that I witnessed tonight on stage! It was amazing!”
“Thanks so much for a wonderful show. It was really excellent.”
“A fantastic show. There were so many breathtaking moments and amazing scenes.”
“I loved how everything was done right in front of you. i loved the sounds, I loved the lighting.”
“The cast as an ensemble was wonderful and pushing each other to raise the bar. I found it ingenious that so much was happening at the same time, but I do feel like I got so enraptured in the dialogue and the passion/chemistry between actors that I might have missed something else as it began. I can’t wait to see it again.”
And from our Critics:
“Fountain keeps things lively with a variety of low-budget but striking stagecraft tricks, such as a live percussion sountrack with the weapon of choice, a wood pipe.
“Dramatic lighting, shadow play and ensemble chanting create a thrilling experience.”
“All of these elements help the conspiracy build, ending with an emotional payoff. Can't really ask for much more.”
“Ramsey (Brutus) and Obeney (Cassius) are standouts.”
“The LGA version of Caesar, directed by Bill Fountain, strives for greatness.”
Praise for Fountain’s previous Shakespearean show Titus Andronicus
(Quotes from our audience):
"Fountain's adaption brings a modern sensibility to Shakespeare's classic work."
"Fountain's edition of Titus Andronicus brings to life Shakespeare's darker fantasies."
"The thin line of madness and sanity never seemed so vivid on stage"
“ Rome is full of tigers” and so was this show!”
“Although never previously exposed to the text, after the incredible vision of director, was presented to the audience, I could never see it any other way.”
“Through his vision, Fountain proves that the human condition transcends all barriers and leaves the audience with a powerful human message. It was an experience not to be quickly forgotten and one that continues to give the audience members pause even days later.”
“Fountain humanized Titus Andronicus in a way that lifted it above a mere revenge play.”
“All is played out through the talents of an exceptional cast. Shakespeare would be proud of this creative interpretation.”