Theater at PW: Julius Caesar – Femmes, Romans, Countrymen

Carmen Ferran '20, Erin Malimban '19, Alyssa McPherson '18.5, and Clare Boyle '20 as Cassius, Brutus, Caesar, and Antony.

Caroline Sprague ’20 wants you to lend her your ears to a violent classic. No, it’s not like you’ve seen it before. Her production of Julius Caesar, which she subtitles “Femmes, Romans, Countrymen,” is like a successful tightrope walk: she and her performers take full balanced strides on Shakespeare’s original play and infuse community and hope under the simple vision of an all womxn and all femme cast. With her commitment to the use of non-binary identities as well as all womxn, her production triumphantly crosses this difficult chasm from beginning to end.

Sprague set out to break the mold of Brown theater with this production. “On this campus we talk about theater in terms of both process and product, but we always seem to focus more on the product,” she said. “Process is more important. We cultivated practice and invited collaboration through every step of the process… The questioning of the word and the concept of ‘womxnhood’ or ‘femme-identity’ has been pretty central to the process, we made sure that a variety of identities are included in the vision.” Although not the end-goal for Sprague, the product of her vision is nothing short of fantastic.

Featuring a strong ensemble cast led by Erin Malimban ’19 as Brutus, this production is as intelligent and mature as any professional company’s production.

In my opinion, the biggest challenges with tackling Shakespeare are the heightened language and the pacing of the play – in the wrong hands, the language can seem both fluffy and insipid. With Shakespeare, the play can quickly slow to a halt with scenes that seem inconsequential and monologues that seem much too long. Thankfully, Sprague and the cast understand every word, every metaphor, and know exactly how to assemble them to stay true to both Shakespeare and their own vision.

Somehow, you understand and sympathize with every character’s point of view, from Caesar to Cassius to Cinna The Poet, often a difficult thing to do in a play with such reprehensible original characters. I believe this is due to not only the cast and the production team, but the mere fact that womxn are in charge here. Because of this, the five acts of the play fly by in a breathless two hours – time constantly feels like it’s running out and you somehow want everybody to get what they want.

This has to be my third or fourth production of Caesar, including a professional, all-femme production in New York City last summer, and this production is by far the most effective at portraying real people.

The set and lights designed by cast member Maia Johngren ’21 and Francesca Sabel ’21, respectively, are simple and exist only to serve the language and the action of the play – the environment acts as a void, a heterotopia peppered with color and minimalist pieces to let the characters live, breathe, and speak for themselves.

The same is true for the costumes, designed by Talia Dutton ’18; the womxn all wear similar-looking dark frocks accentuated with colorful sashes that allow them to exist as beings on a seemingly equal playing field, who fight and take grave measures in an effort to keep the status quo.

In addition, the sameness of the costumes allows for a brilliant apparition sequence that may startle even the veteran theatergoer. And finally, the sound, designed by Alex Hanesworth ’20 is some of the best work I’ve ever seen: it creeps in and rattles you to your core.

Julius Caesar – Femmes, Romans, Countrymen is a brilliant night of theater. Sprague told me that “the other day I took a picture of Erin [Malimban] in front of the Downspace wall in the lobby, but the picture just happened to cut off the ‘D,’ so instead of ‘Downspace,’ it became ‘Ownspace.’ That’s what we’re doing here, building our own space within this black box. And in doing that, we can reclaim this classic and be more of a healing for everybody involved.”

They nailed it.

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Show Times: February 9th @ 8:00 p.m., February 10th @ 2:00 p.m. & @ 8:00 p.m., February 11th @ 8:00 p.m., February 12th @ 8pm

Run time: Approximately 2 hours, including intermission

Performed at Production Workshop, 7 Young Orchard Avenue.

Cast: Clare Boyle ’20, Talia Dutton ’18, Carmen Ferran ’20, Maia Johngren ’21, Riya Kothari ’21, Maaike Laanstra-Corn ’21, Nikki Lee ’18, Caitlin Malimban ’21, Erin Malimban ’19, Alyssa McPherson ‘18.5, Julia Moore ’21, Olivia Moscicki ’18, Julia Newitt ’19, Julia Rosenberg ’20, Cori Williams ’21

Directed by Caroline Sprague ’20

Content warning: this production features flashing lights and stylized depictions of murder, violence, and suicide.

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