For The Media
REVIEW OF MACBETH: SEASON ELEVEN/2015
Annie Dennis (l.), Linda Bisesti,Christine Menzies - the witches of SCSF "Macbeth"
The Southern California Shakespeare Festival (SCSF), in residence at Cal Poly Pomona (CPP)’s Studio Theatre, is presenting William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” until Oct. 4, 2015. The play is directed by this year’s SCSF’s guest director, David Fox, who is regularly a professor of theatre at Massachusetts’ Wheaton College.
One of The Bard’s great tragedies, “Macbeth” tells the story of a man who, feeling quite reassured by superhuman voices (three witches), allows his ambition to get the best of him, only to his demise. Some of Shakespeare’s greatest lines are part of this play.
At SCSF, the major roles are performed by professional actors. They include CPP’s alumni and professors at this school and other Los Angeles’ universities. Secondary characters are played by student actors. The combination contributes to a diverse and multi-cultured cast.
Macbeth is performed by Robert Shields, a CPP graduate who does well portraying a successful soldier that in front of the audience devolves into a crazed murderer. Another CPP alumnus, Daniella Tarankow, does well as a pushy Lady Macbeth that uses her sensual charms to encourage her husband to treason. Two supporting actors do a particularly fine job – Jasmine Mosebar, currently a CPP senior, is as Hecate every bit as scary as a ruler of witches should be, projecting a strong voice and a wild manner. On the other hand, current graduate student at CSULA Marissa Pitts, as Lady MacDuff, delivers the most believable (horrifying) death in this play, which has many.
This production sets “Macbeth” in an ambiguous war time period, in modern dress. There are a couple of interesting props, like a witches’ pot that seems to really brew, and a decapitated head in a sac inside of which you can devise an open eye.
While it is generally easier to deal with a comedy than a tragedy, “Macbeth” at SCFS is engaging, keeping the crowd interested and alert.
Studio Theatre is an intimate space, with the action happening only a few feet away from you. The play is just over two hours long, with a 15-minute intermission.
REVIEW OF JULIUS CAESAR: SEASON TEN/2014
Friends, readers, enthusiasts, lend me your eyes; more so, lend me an open mind. For only so often is Shakespeare represented more accurately in spirit than in form and when it is so done, one must take notice and treasure it the way it deserves be treasured. This rendition of Julius Caesar presented during the tenth anniversary of the Southern California Shakespeare Festival at Cal Poly Pomona is not a mirror to Shakespeare’s work, but an extension of it. The first subtle difference is the modern attire. The Roman Senators much more resembled modern American Senators with full suits, complete with briefcases. The second, and entirely more shocking yet no more important, is that Caesar is portrayed by The Head of Acting at Cal Poly Pomona: Linda Biseti--a woman. A point to which we will shortly and surely return. And lastly, scenes have been cut and Caesar herself dies three times. Before any of that though, a sincere and astounding mention must be made of Matthew Reidy who plays Cassius. My Lord I have never seen such an impassioned and wonderful performance by any actor of any Shakespeare character less Kenneth Branagh. As Brutus is pure, Cassius is opportune, and at no point does Reidy let on to Brutus his intentions, but even a novice audience goer can keep up with this performance that Reidy has laid out. This should not be to take away from Cal Poly alumnus Robert Shields’ performance of Marcus Brutus. His stoic tension and inner-conflict make the audience, who encircle the entire floor level stage, stand on the edge of their seats, yes, even those of us who know what happens at the end. The two do not share the stage in their many scenes together, no, instead they explode the entire idea of a stage and the interaction is happening real time in your mind as the treacherous Cassius manipulates the true intention and honest ideology of Brutus.
Once Brutus has been co-opted by the antagonist the plot slips quickly into chaos as the self-serving senators who act as the conspirators, interests are peaked by the potential for wealth and power quickly line up with Brutus and Cassius. Hereafter Caesar herself, and not her significant other, has a dream that she will be assassinated on the Senate floor. Now, I myself was wondering, when the play started and I saw a female as Caesar, how they would tackle this issue. Would it be a husband? Or an aide? But I think they did a wonderful job. The question, or rather the challenge I pose to you is this: is this a sign of women rising through the ranks in a gesture of solidarity with the modern feminist movement, or is this a highlight of the equal corruptibility of women as compared to the already corrupted system of misogyny in society? I do not expect you to have a black and white decision on this by the end of the play. In fact, I doubt that you will be able to articulate a clear opinion on this after the play without stuttering and changing your mind at least once; don’t worry; the stutter comes with a smile. The modern attire of the senators is an equally intriguing endeavor. It is not to be misconstrued as a simple modernizing of the script. It is not some parlor trick to be found relatable to a younger audience who may not have much experience with Shakespeare. Instead, it can be considered a bit of a Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner twist. Their point is that this type of greed in governance still exists. Further, that is always has, and always will, exist. As Brutus stays his course for the good of Rome and the free man, he only serves the cause of men as greedy as Caesar. The road to hell is paved with good intentions and Brutus’ good intentions pave the road with gold. He is almost a stand in for the proletariat, or either political party’s base, whose opinion is often corralled by those with ulterior motives whom they trust. If you have seen and are familiar with the play of Julius Caesar, go see this performance. If you have never before been introduced to Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, go see this play. It is an awesome opportunity for you to become antiquated in a personal and professional environment. Further, if you are not even familiar with Shakespeare’s works at all, then this is a must see. I cannot think of a better performance onto which to begin your Shakespeare journey. The play runs Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. through October 5th at Cal Poly Pomona’s Studio Theatre. Tickets are $15 and parking is $3.
Lisa Wolpe as Richard III and Katrinka Wolfson as Lady Anne in The Southern California Shakespeare Festival presentation of Richard III at Cal Poly Pomona on August 14, 2011.
Passing Strange: Shakespeare, Race, and Contemporary America by Shakespeare scholar Ayanna Thompson features the Twelfth Night production of SCSF season 4 on it's cover.
SCSF is written about in Professor Thompson's book specifically with regard to its multicultural company presence and its impact in the surrounding community.
Professor Thompon's book was published by Oxford University Press in 2011.