Review: The Tragedy of JFK (as told by Wm. Shakespeare)

The Tragedy of JFK

Chad Brannon (center) and cast. Photos by Rick Baumgartner

The Blank Theatre opens its 26th season with a new work written and directed by founding artistic director Daniel Henning that explores one of the most controversial events in U.S. history – the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The Tragedy of JFK (as told by Wm. Shakespeare) is the result of several decades of research during which time Henning has come to be recognized as an authority on the subject. That, combined with his other great obsession – live theatre – meant it was only a matter of time before LA audiences would see a stage play based on his work.

It isn’t the first time a political leader’s life has been cut short by opposing forces. JFK’s story bears uncanny similarities to another ruler who lived more than 2,000 years ago during the Roman Empire. Julius Caesar’s death at the hands of a group of conspirators would prompt another playwright in England – William Shakespeare – to write his own story of the machinations of men, The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, in 1599.

Though separated by thousands of years, the two men do seem eerily connected, with one important difference. The public knew who killed Caesar, but JFK? That’s a whole other ball of wax.

Although the Warren Commission, tasked with the JFK investigation, would find that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in gunning down the president, conspiracy theories abound. There were many who had something to gain by JFK’s death. Henning connects the dots in a way that rids the story of its misinformation and draws compelling conclusions about the events (by way of theatrical exploration) that are hard to deny.

To tell the story, he uses much of the Julius Caesar text, skillfully merging our historical characters and their Shakespearean alter egos. The cadence of the contemporary regional accents and classical verse works well together as does the straightforward tone of the piece. Henning strips away all distractions and focuses in on what is said and who is saying it. In doing so, the parallels between characters like Caesar and JFK (Ford Austin), Brutus and LBJ (Time Winters), Cassius and J. Edgar Hoover (Tony Abatemarco), or Marc Antony and Bobby Kennedy (Chad Brannon) become chillingly apparent.

Tragedy of JFK - The Blank

L-R: Time Winters, Bruce Nehlsen, and Tony Abatemarco

Abatemarco’s Hoover is a cunning creation whose resentment of JFK is obvious from the very beginning. His Machiavellian overtures come couched within an oily persona that only becomes more disgusting with every wonderfully vile speech he bites into. We love to hate him. As Lyndon Johnson, Winters presents a meticulous portrait of a man of ambition who will not be underestimated. He is a commanding presence amid the players and uses intimidation as it suits him.

Austin captures JFK’s effortless charm in passages like the “I will not come” dialogue after Jackie (Casey McKinnon) warns him not to go forth today (the same warning Shakespeare’s Calpernia gives Caesar before he is assassinated at the Senate). McKinnon is a gentle Jackie, full of grace, with a stunning resemblance to the first lady. Brannon’s two best moments, the “Cry havoc” speech and his “I come to bury Caesar” diatribe full of thinly-veiled malice, resonate deeply.

The Tragedy of JFK

Casey McKinnon and Ford Austin

The entire cast is equally as skilled, with additional notable performances from Susan Denaker as Lady Bird Johnson and Brett Collier as Martin Luther King, Jr.

The timeline of the play covers the events leading up to the assassination and the fallout that follows it, reaching its climax during a powerful scene recreating Dr. King’s march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. A lyric revision turns the civil rights anthem “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around” into an emotional high point creating a kind of false ending before the play moves on to LBJ’s presidency, his decision not to run for re-election in 1968, and the events at the Ambassador Hotel that same year when Bobby Kennedy would be shot.

An uncomplicated technical design benefits the production by keeping the audience’s attention riveted on the characters. Historical footage projected on the set is the lone obvious enhancement that introduces theatricality to the overall effect. It’s beautifully done.

The Tragedy of JFK presents a compelling explanation for one of the most horrific events in U.S. history and Henning’s production contains some of the finest work you’ll see on a stage in LA. This is an exceptional cast telling an extraordinary story and one of the best nights of theatre you’ll see in 2016.

THE TRAGEDY OF JFK (As Told By Wm. Shakespeare)
October 1 – November 6, 2016 (Extended through Nov 20)
The Blank Theatre at The Skylight Theatre
1816½ N. Vermont
Los Angeles, CA 90027


Review: Betrayal Abounds in A Noise Within’s Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar - A Noise Within

L-R: Freddy Douglas (Cassius), Evan Garcia (Ensemble), June Carryl (Cinna), Robertson Dean (Brutus), E.K. Dagenfield (Metellus), and Deborah Strang (Casca). Photos by Craig Schwartz

Betrayal lurks around every corner when a ruler’s ability to rule comes into question. Whether real or imagined, its weighty presence stands as a cautionary phantom in A Noise Within’s Julius Caesar. Directors Julia Rodriguez-Elliot and Geoff Elliot have turned Shakespeare’s thought-provoking political drama into a powerful exposé on the less noble actions of men, anchored by two terrific performances and a commanding industrial design.

It is a play mostly known for its famous quotes: “Beware the ides of March,” “it was Greek to me,” “The fault is not in our stars…But in ourselves,” and “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears” – a masterpiece of words; crafty and ironic one minute, fiercely direct the next.

Rafael Goldstein (Mark Antony) uses them brilliantly in a dazzling speech that is the crown jewel of this production. With Caesar’s broken body laid out on a rolling scaffold, Goldstein perches on top of a Genie Lift, an ingenious piece of mechanical equipment that further assists the actor in punctuating his message. It is an electrifying performance; one you’ll be talking about long after his galvanizing eulogy ends and the house lights come up.  More

See A Noise Within’s Julius Caesar and The Threepenny Opera on the Same Day

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.

ANW Geoff and Julia“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.  More

Photo Flash: CASA 0101 Theater’s Julius Caesar

CASA 0101’s production of Julius Caesar directed by Robert Beltran continues its run through Nov. 16. There will be no performance on Halloween, Friday, Oct. 31 however an additional performance has been added on Monday, Nov. 3 at 7:30 pm. Julius Caesar is presented on the theater’s Main Stage located at 2102 East First Street (at St. Louis Street), Boyle Heights, CA  90033. For a complete schedule of dates and more information visit

CASA 0101’s Julius Caesar is part of Encuentro 2014, A National Latina/o Theatre Festival. Concurrently with the run of the show, an Art Exhibit featuring the work of Arturo Urista will be on display in the Jean Deleage Art Gallery in the lobby of CASA 0101 Theater. The Exhibit features works dealing with themes presented in the play.

Julius Caesar - CASA 0101

L-R: Daniel Mora, Rachel Gonzalez, Lauren Ballesteros, Ulvaldo Baltazar, and Ray Rios. Photos by Ed Krieger


Classical Theatre Lab Presents FREE Staged Reading of Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar classical theatre lab

Up next at Classical Theatre Lab – a FREE staged reading of Julius Caesar

Sunday, September 28 at 2:00 pm

The Lounge Theatre, 6201 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90038

For reservations, call (323) 960-5691 or email

Encuentro 2014 National Theatre Festival to include CASA 0101’s Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar Casa 0101

CASA 0101 Theater will present Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar October 17 – November 16 as part of the Encuentro 2014 National Theatre Festival. Directed by Robert Beltran (Star Trek: Voyager) and presented in English, Julius Caesar explores the human motivations behind the betrayal, assassination, and the aftermath of Caesar’s death that precipitated the end of the Roman Republic and the birth of the Roman Empire.

The cast includes Lauren Ballesteros, Uvaldo Baltazar, Emmanuel Deleage, Joshua Duron, Fidel Gomez, Rachel Gonzalez, Jasmin Iraheta, Karlo Ishibashi, Ted Lange, Linda Lopez, Carmelita Maldonado, Daniel Mora, Ray Rios, Moises Rodriguez, Miguel Roura, Vance Valencia and Katie Ventura.

Julius Caesar will run Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm and Sundays at 5:00 pm (no show on Sunday Nov. 9) at CASA 0101, 2009 East First St, Los Angeles, CA 90033. For tickets and more information visit

For more information about the Encuentro 2014 National Theatre Festival and all of the productions on the schedule visit

Audition Update: A Noise Within, Lovers & Madmen Productions

A Noise Within has scheduled Equity Principal auditions for its 2014-15 season on November 13 from 10:00 am – 6:00 pm for Julius Caesar and Figaro. Sign in begins at 9:00 am. Please prepare a contemporary monologue no more than 2 minutes in length and have a Shakespearean monologue ready if asked. Contract is LOA/LORT salary pending (previous reh. min. $290/wk). Auditions will take place at A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd, Pasadena, CA 91107. Please park in the Metro Station parking structure behind the theatre.

Lovers & Madmen Productions and director Michael Matthys are holding auditions for A Midsummer Night’s Dream on August 9 & 10, with callbacks on August 10. Shows will be performed at Plummer Park as part of the City of West Hollywood’s Free Theatre in the Park Series. Rehearsals begin September 2nd and performances run Saturdays, Oct. 11 & 18 at 3:30 and Sundays, Oct. 19 & 2 at 2:00. There is a possibility of additional performances at other venues TBA. The company is especially interested in actors that are process-driven, movement based, and that have a love for Shakespeare’s language. To submit electronically (by August 9) and for a breakdown of roles and more info, go to Actors Access.

Cast Announced for Cal Poly Pomona’s JULIUS CAESAR Starring Linda Bisesti

Julius Caesar Cal Poly Pomona
Southern California Shakespeare Festival has announced that it will present Julius Caesar Sept.13 – Oct. 5 at Cal Poly Pomona, directed by Josh Machamer. In this tenth anniversary production, the eponymous character will be played by the Festival’s artistic director, Linda Bisesti. Gender-bending in the casting is not new for the Festival; Lisa Wolpe portrayed Richard III in 2011. The Festival has consistently practiced non-traditional casting, and a number of the roles in the 2014 production have been cast without limitation by race nor gender.

Julius Caesar relates the fall of the Roman dictator of the title, murdered by conspirators before he can become absolute monarch of the Roman Empire by public acclamation. Only one of the assassins, Caesar’s beloved friend Brutus, acts in what he truly believes are the best interests of the Roman Republic.  More

A Noise Within Announces REVOLUTIONARY 2014-15 Season

A Noise Within

A Noise Within, led by producing artistic directors Geoff Elliott and Julia Rodriguez-Elliott, announces its 23rd season of classic theater in Southern California. Informed by the climate of social and economic upheaval in which we live, the season’s theme – reflected in a kaleidoscopic palette of plays – is REVOLUTION.

“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, and because wherever we look, it is rearing its head in the forms of civic, social, and political unrest.” The company’s revolutionary season will include: More

Audition Update: PCPA Theatrefest, Redlands Shakespeare Festival

PCPA Audition Tour 2012-2013
PCPA’s season will include a production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, February 21 – March 17 in the Severson Theatre, Santa Maria. To schedule an appointment please call (805) 928-7731 x 4168 or email They do accept video auditions. Please email links to For audition requirements and a complete look at the season go to Local audition dates:

Saturday, January 19, 2013 at CSU Fullerton
10am to 3pm
Clayes Performing Arts Center Rm. 149
Go to for campus maps
800 N State College Blvd, Fullerton, CA, 92831-3547

Sunday, January 20, 2013 at UC Irvine
10am – 5pm
Studio 4 (on Mesa Dr.) in the Theater complex
Go to for campus maps

Monday, January 21, 2013 in Los Angeles – Madilyn Clark Studios
12pm – 4pm
10852 Burbank Boulevard
North Hollywood, CA 91601

Redlands Shakespeare Festival
Auditions for the 2013 Season will be held 1:00 – 5:00 pm Saturday, February 16, and Sunday, February 17, at Joslyn Senior Center, 21 Grant St., Redlands, CA 92373. Call-backs will be held at 5pm Sunday, February 17. Auditions consist of cold readings of scenes from the three plays to be presented during the season. No prepared monologues are required. The season includes The Taming of the Shrew (All male cast), Julius Caesar (All female cast), and Love’s Labours Lost (Mixed gender cast).

Redlands Shakespeare Festival is seeking 45 actors of any ethnicity, ages 16 and older, for the 2013 season. All roles are open. Performances will be held in repertory at the 6,000 seat Redlands Bowl outdoor amphitheater. Some pay occasionally available for certain roles – Contract terms are negotiable and include several school site visits. In addition, headshots and resumés are accepted throughout the year. Please send to:

Steven Sabel, Artistic Director
Redlands Shakespeare Festival
PO Box 546
Redlands, CA 92373
or call (909) 335-7377

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