By James A. Kroll
NEW YORK CITY – Last night (Aug. 13) I had the opportunity to see the Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company’s New York City Debut, a production of “Julius Caesar” performed with an all-female cast.
It was staged at the Kraine Theatre in the East Village, once renowned as the home of the punk rock scene in the late ’70s and early ’80s that introduced the Sex Pistols, the Police and the Clash to New York from London; and a stone’s throw away from the Fillmore East, a theater that brought The Doors, Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead from California to this island off the east coast of America.
So it was fitting that Pigeon Creek joined this illustrious cast of performers known for both their innovativeness and ability to detect the pulse of the masses, and PCSC arrived from Grand Haven and from the shores of Lake Michigan to NYC on the shore of the great Atlantic.
The mission statement of this troupe is based on what they refer to as “original practices,” which is a throwback to the theatrical practices that were in play when Shakespeare’s plays were originally produced. In other words. the limited set and production values they employ, along with “universal lighting,” strip the productions down to where the focus is on the language of the playwright; So the spoken work itself creates the world where the characters live and our imagination populates the stage with all the unseen buildings, monuments, and countrysides in which the action takes place.
This production of “Julius Caesar” remained true to that statement, but the question remains: Did they achieve their intended goal in using an all female cast of what they themselves acknowledge is a testosterone-filled play, and their desire to challenge the preconceptions of male and female while exploring the performance of gender? Though I admire their quest, I found myself questioning their execution.
There were truly some fine performances, most notability Heather Folkvord as Brutus, torn by the love of friendship and the dedication to one’s duty to the state. Sarah Stark played a Marcus Anthony that snake-oil salesman would be proud to call one of their own. As Julius Caesar, Kathleen Bode was a noble character, though seemingly unaware of the jealously generated from others when one achieves power and devotion. And as the catalyst of that jealously, though self-deluded by a sense of honor, Katherine Mayberry brought Caius Cassius to life. The cast as a whole was delightful in the daring and excitement they generated on the stage.
Alisha Huber’s direction of the play gave “Julius Caesar” a very nice pacing, and the scenes moved one into the other in an effortless free form that specifically suited this production. Given that the play was largely language driven, the clarity of the performers and their disciplined dedication to the spoken word kept the narration on track, and allowed the audience to share with the actors in their journey to discover their own truths.
But this brings me back to the goal of this production: What were they trying to give to me? What “truth” was I, as a member of the audience, supposed to take with me as I left the theater and entered the subway on my trip back home?
Watching these women play the roles of men, while bold in their delivery, left me puzzled as to their intention. I wondered if the recent political situation in which we live today — where more women have gained so much prominence and power, where a Hilary Clinton is the Secretary of State and a Nancy Pelosi is third in line to the most powerful position in the world — have any consideration in the company’s choice in casting?
But then, these are powerful women who remain women, and comparing them to historical male counterparts was an idea not given to me from the play, but my own searching for an answer. Or was it?
When one takes a classical piece and alters it by either time, location or gender, the need for that innovation has to be apparent and ring true. New York is a city that applauds innovation and rewards one for the successful execution of a new idea, no matter from where in the world that idea has come. Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company has taken that first step to reap those rewards, and I look forward to their continuing efforts.