Et tu, Prospect?
Modesto’s Prospect Theater Project brings the classic tragedy of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” to the stage to open its 14th season Friday. The story of power, corruption and betrayal in the Roman Empire will be directed by Prospect founding artistic director Jack Souza.
Souza said the play has been on his list to produce for several years. The political drama will be told in period, but with the addition of modern touches such as televised news reports to bring the story’s themes to the forefront.
“The purpose of even presenting the play is not to say this was what Rome was like in 44 B.C., it’s to talk about its relevance today,” Souza said. “The play topically is about trying to control public opinion and individual perception. We have always done that in politics, and the only things that have changed are the tools available. So I thought, what if some of the tools available today were available then?”
Broadcast news segments will be interspersed into the production, like CNN dispatches from ancient Rome. The production will be told from multiple perspectives, with up-close interactions with some audience members, as well.
The cast of about 20 area actors includes Prospect veteran David Barbaree as Caesar, with Joseph Curdy, Bill Rowe, Michael Hewitt, Mary Pieczarka and Lezlie Acker.
Souza said another reason for selecting “Caesar” as his season opener was its status as a staple in high school courses across the country. Producing pieces that align with local school curriculum long has been part of the Prospect mission. Area students and teachers who would like to see the production can make special arrangements at the box office, or take advantage of student rush tickets available for the Oct. 9 show.
In past seasons, other similar school-related productions have included “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “The Grapes of Wrath” and “A Doll’s House.”
After “Julius Caesar,” the Prospect 2014-15 season will continue with a series of plays that Souza said center around that basic human desire to both find and define oneself.
“I am excited about what’s coming up. I attempt to build seasons around some thematic connection. I think all of these plays this year are about people who are trying to define themselves not only in the world, but the story of their own lives and the struggles that come with doing that with any kind of honesty,” he said.
The rest of the season:
• “The Whipping Man,” by Mathew Lopez, Nov. 21-Dec. 7: A post-Civil War-era production centered around the celebration of the Jewish Passover holiday that finds a Confederate officer returning to two former slaves remaining in his family home.
• “The Women,” by Clare Boothe Luce, Feb. 6-22: A comedy about modern womanhood in which a sophisticated circle of friends examine their narrowly defined roles as wives, mothers, confidants and seductresses.
• “Faith Healer,” by Brian Friel, April 24-May 10: Monologues tell the life story of traveling showman/faith healer Francis Hard.
This slate of shows will be the first season put on in the theater company’s new, larger downtown Modesto space on K Street. Souza said the move has not changed the kinds of plays Prospect has been able to produce. But it has given the company room to stretch out its vision.
“It has opened the doors to scaling up productions a little bit. And certainly in terms of cast, now there are places for them to be other than each other’s laps,” he said. “Contentwise, one might think this kind of change in location might lead to a change in content – a shift toward middle of the road and safe things. But that has not been the case. We don’t need to rethink how we fundamentally think about theater. We do what we’ve been doing.”