We Players take ‘Caesar’ from outdoor stage to screen

Marsh streams solo shows, with commentary

We Players take ‘Caesar’ from outdoor stage to screen

If you’d seen We Players’ “Caesar Maximus,” a walk-through, quasi-circusy adaptation of “Julius Caesar” at the Music Concourse in Golden Gate Park in 2018, then gone home and dreamt of it that night, your dream—perhaps a beautiful, illuminated nightmare—might have resembled the theater’s new, half-hour film on Vimeo.

Presciently, artistic director Ava Roy and team had filmed the production — not an official performance — scripted by Nick Medina with Roy, planning to eventually cull footage and experiment with new theatrical forms. The result is this film, co-created with Tracy Martin.

Roy describes it as “a visual exploration of the thematic elements of our original adaptation,” and as such, it’s quite effective, and probably as good a video example as possible of We Players’ wonderfully sensorial and physically imaginative approach to theater making.

The film’s floating fragments of text, taken from Shakespeare’s tragedy about the assassination of Roman emperor Julius Caesar by members of his own triumvirate, are bookended by wily Marc Antony’s soliloquies, addressed directly to the camera in close-up by a mesmerizing Rotimi Agbabiaka.

The chilling elements of mob violence and manipulation are present and accounted for throughout various scenes in this female-centric “Caesar.” The plot is re-imagined in a swirl of images, music (original score by Charlie Gurke), expressive slo-mo movement, splashes of red (scarlet gossamer veils, bloody entrails), shining daggers, eerie vocals, festive celebratory activities that include juggling, a silent figure drifting through a tunnel, and more.

Caesar is portrayed by a particularly strong and dynamic Libby Oberlin in military garb and high-heeled boots, and Emily Stone is a chilling soothsayer, fruitlessly warning of Caesar’s impending fate. (The Ides of March was Caesar’s doomsday—and close to the start of our pandemic lockdown.) The cast is uneven, but ultimately this filmed incarnation of “Caesar Maximus” is an inventive way to regenerate the original production, and an example, for these restrictive times, of We Players’ unique artistic exploration.

The film runs through Sept. 5 at http://www.weplayers.org/we-connect; a donation is required for the link.

Marsh solo shows

One-person shows, so Zoomable, are a bonanza for The Marsh, a longtime developer and producer of solo work. And San Francisco playwright Lynne Kaufman’s “Exposing Margaret Mead,” performed by Nancy Madden as a staged reading, is an intriguing addition to The Marsh’s packed lineup—and to Kaufman’s extensive body of dramatic work (which includes plays about other 20 th-century figures such as Ram Dass, Sylvia Plath and Freud).

Nancy Madden, left, appears in “Exposing Margaret Mead,” written by Lynne Kaufman, right. (Courtesy photo)

Nancy Madden, left, appears in “Exposing Margaret Mead,” written by Lynne Kaufman, right. (Courtesy photo)

Mead is a fascinating character, as Kaufman (who also directs) envisions her: bisexual (the cultural anthropologist Ruth Benedict was one of her lovers), married three times (once to famed English anthropologist Gregory Bateson), ambitious, adventurous, outspoken. Her enormously popular “Coming of Age in Samoa” was required school reading for many of us, but some scholars have challenged her findings since its publication.

Kaufman structures her narrative around a negative review of Mead’s work in the New York Times, by a colleague, Derek Freeman, which accuses her, among other things, of relying on too few examples in fieldwork in American Samoa, and, basically, of being duped by an informant. He especially attacked her for promoting the idea that Samoans blithely engaged in sex with multiple partners.

With Freeman’s review as both a starting and an ending point (it was actually published in 1983, five years after she died), Mead goes on to look back at her career and her relationships, interweaving comments on her work in the field.

Along the way, Madden assumes various other roles, such as Mead’s famous professor Franz Boaz, a husband or two and more. Madden is terrific in the role, speaking in slightly elevated articulation, beautifully capturing both the essence of the peripheral characters and Mead herself, a complex figure that Kaufman has based on much research.

In Kaufman’s telling, by the play’s end, Mead has taken most of her cohort’s criticisms in stride, but offers a few “takeaways,” as she says. Among them: War, she declares, is an invention, not innate to the human condition. The nuclear family is a Petri dish for neurosis. All races are equal. Sexual identity is fluid.

It’s a lot of material to cover in a bit under an hour, and I’d have liked less of a straightforward narrative thread and more of Mead’s (imagined) self-inquiry into the importance and relevance of her life’s work and the mistakes she may have made. When Kaufman lets her imagination fly, as we’ve seen in other shows of hers, the results are wonderful, and she certainly has an ideal character, and actor, to work with here in further development.

Visit https://themarsh.org/shows_and_events/marshstream/solo-performer-spotlight-exposing-margaret-mead/ to see the show. For an interview with Kaufman and Marsh founder Stephanie Weisman, go to: https://themarsh.org/shows_and_events/marshstream/stephanies-marshstream-lynne-kaufman/.

Meanwhile, among The Marsh’s Wednesday night Marshstream series, “Solo Arts Heal,” is a short (20 minutes or so) solo, “The Good Adoptee” by Suzanne Bachner, about her experience trying to find her birth mother. Actually, the piece comprises live excerpts from her longer solo play. It’s followed by a discussion among Bachner, actor Hayley Palmer and Solo Arts Heal moderator Gail Schickele, and it’s just the right tidbit for producer Weisman’s outreach toward health and healing in these fraught times—touching and humorous. Palmer’s an engaging narrator, skillfully inhabiting varied characters such as Bachner’s adoptive parents and others.

To see the show, go to https://themarsh.org/shows_and_events/marshstream/solo-arts-heal-the-good-adoptee/.

Hayley Palmer performs “The Good Adoptee” as part of The Marsh’s “Solo Arts Heal” series. (Courtesy photo)

Hayley Palmer performs “The Good Adoptee” as part of The Marsh’s “Solo Arts Heal” series. (Courtesy photo)

Coming attractions: “In Good Company” is a weekly radio drama series written specifically for New Conservatory Theatre by playwrights Jewelle Gomez, Eric Reyes Loo, Laurel Ollstein, Tim Pinckney and Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder, wherever podcasts are available. It’s described as a “kind-of-semi-true, behind-the-scenes story about a Bay Area theater grappling with its place in society as coronavirus spreads.” Ed Decker directs. It starts Aug. 26 at https://www.nctcsf.org/In-Good-Company-Podcast.

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