A Noise Within continues its 2014-2015 REVOLUTIONary season with two new productions: The Threepenny Opera, Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill’s groundbreaking theatrical work in Michael Feingold’s translation February 15 – May 9 and William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar March 22 to May 8. While both plays spoke to the times in which they were first produced – Weimar Germany and Elizabethan England, respectively – they also speak to this season’s theme of REVOLUTION, most especially from a socio-political point of view.
“We have always crafted overarching themes for our repertory seasons,” says Geoff Elliott, “but none has presented itself as organically and viscerally as this year’s.” Julia Rodriguez-Elliott reinforces this notion, adding, “In many ways, the idea of REVOLUTION had entered our collective consciousness in ways that all but dared us not to embrace it. As a director, I am especially energized by the concept of ‘disorderly conduct’ — both because it appears as a theme in every one of these plays, especially The Threepenny Opera and Julius Caesar, and because wherever we look, all around the world, it is rearing its head in the forms of civic, social, and political unrest. We take our cue from Brecht himself, who said, ‘Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.’”
Both Threepenny and Caesar were created by a single design team, and are headed by Rodriguez-Elliott and Elliott as directors. While the plays can be enjoyed singly, you can see both productions on the same day as a matinee and evening performance on April 12, 25 and May 2. When seen back-to-back, the two plays become a still larger theatrical experience as their themes resonate and intertwine. On each of these three dates, 50 patrons will be able participate in immersive directing or acting workshops, have a chance to meet the cast and crew, and enjoy dinner and lively social interaction with other theatregoers between the two performances.
This is the first time in its history that A Noise Within has designed plays so that the scenic changeover can occur seamlessly between a matinee and an evening performance, thus providing for a panoramic view of the theatrical process. And while new in format, REVOLUTIONRep brings to high relief the repertory platform that has made A Noise Within one of the country’s premier presenters of classical plays.
Julia Rodriguez-Elliott says, “REVOLUTIONRep promises a completely new theatrical experience, one where we forge alliances among our patrons, company, and cast. Together the two plays speak to events surrounding power – Victoria’s coronation in Threepenny and Julius Caesar’s rise to power – and how the characters of each play respond to these powers-that-be.”
“In many ways, this unique event punctuates the very premise of repertory theatre, and brings it front and center,” says Geoff Elliott. “Patrons will enjoy a bird’s-eye view of the repertory process, and get a glimpse of how its interlocking components allow us to present so wide a variety of theatre all season long. Chief among these are our nurturing of Resident Artists, a focus on ingenious stagecraft, and an unwavering commitment to the participation of guest directors, actors, and behind-the-scenes crew. What results is a creative cauldron that constantly bubbles with new ideas and theatrical invention.”
The Threepenny Opera debuted in Berlin in 1928. Threepenny is nothing short of a groundbreaking work of what is now termed Brechtian Theatre, in which the full use of theatricality is on display and the fourth wall is broken; the audience is aware they are watching a play, a reaction to a previous, more naturalistic approaches to stage works. When first produced, the musical challenged the audience’s notions of how songs could be used to tell a story, and the characters’ ostensible amorality was thought unworthy of expression in song. A Noise Within last produced The Threepenny Opera in 1997.
An adaptation of The Beggar’s Opera by John Gay, Threepenny is a forerunner of modern musical theatre that follows the exploits of Macheath, Victorian London’s most notorious criminal, surrounded by a stage full of rogues, foisting a radical new brand of theatre with music (in America Show Boat would have just premiered, and Oklahoma! would still be 15 years away) on audiences. Threepenny was not just rebellious in form, but also in content highlighting the failure of capitalism and celebrating socialism.
The cast of The Threepenny Opera features Andrew Abelson as Macheath, Geoff Elliott as Jonathan Jeremiah Peachum, Deborah Strang as Mrs. Peachum, Marisa Duchowny as Polly Peachum, Jeremy Rabb as Jackie “Tiger” Brown, Abhimanyu Katyal as Reverend Kimball/Constable Smith, Stasha Surdyke as Jenny, Maegan McConnell as Lucy, E.K. Dagenfield as Filch, along with ensemble members.
Julius Caesar, a tragedy by William Shakespeare, is believed to have been written in 1599 and is one of several plays by Shakespeare including Coriolanus and Antony and Cleopatra that are based on true events from Roman history. The central psychological drama of the work is Brutus’ struggle between the conflicting demands of his honor, patriotism and friendship. The main source of the play is Thomas North’s translation of Plutarch’s Lives. It is thought that the play reflects the general anxiety of Elizabethan England over the succession of leadership, anticipating the death of Elizabeth I.
A play of shifting civic tides, paranoia, and betrayal, Julius Caesar (last produced by the company in 2005) is a tense thriller steeped in civil war and the unending quest for power. Brutus, in concert with a cabal of senators fearing for the future of the Republic, slays its one true threat, Julius Caesar, but underestimates his power as emperor. The assassination throws the Republic into chaos and leads to the first Triumvirate. This play demands that its viewers consider just how far revolution can be taken, though in Julius Caesar it is taken to the ultimate degree — assassination.
The cast includes Robertson Dean as Brutus, Rafael Goldstein as Marc Antony, Freddy Douglas as Cassius, with June Carryl, Deborah Strang, Apollo Dukakis, Jill Hill and Alison Elliott in various roles.
THE THREEPENNY OPERA
February 15 – May 9, 2015 (Press Opening Feb. 21)
March 22 – May 8, 2015 (Press opening March 28)
A Noise Within is located on the corner of Foothill Blvd. and Sierra Madre Villa Avenue at 3352 East Foothill Blvd., Pasadena, CA 91107. Tickets: 626-356-3100 or www.ANoiseWithin.org
Photo credit: Daniel Reichert