Shakespeare: The Sequel

"Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war!" — "Julius Caesar"

 

To-GA! To-GA! …

What’s that? Mothball the togas? Well, what then? … Seriously? No jive? Well, if you insist: Oscar de la Ren-TA! Oscar de la Ren-TA!

"We wanted to make a connection to today’s world," says Kate Buckley, director of a stylized, contemporized "Julius Caesar," which joins the thriller "Gaslight" and the satirical "Moonlight and Magnolias" as the Utah Shakespearean Festival’s fall season, opening today in Cedar City.

And in fierce combat with dramatic conventions, "Julius Caesar" slims down, dresses up and fast-forwards: The production drop-kicks peripheral characters, time-travels to 2008, outfits soldiers in updated combat camouflage and strips senators of togas to spiff them up in suits that could land them on the cover of GQ, Roman Empire edition.

"Although we’re still setting it in Rome and still using Shakespeare’s words, it does have its problems whenever you move Shakespeare into the modern world," Buckley says. "You have to make that world really tight and clean so the language lives well in that world."

Suggesting that "J.C." rocket into the 21st century was festival director R. Scott Phillips. "I challenged the director to get to the core of the story," Phillips says. "It isn’t necessarily about so-and-so’s army, but about what happens to people seeking power. It has nothing to do with a Democrat or Republican statement, though I hope it’ll bring focus to the upcoming election."

Togas or suits? Drachmas or euros? Chariots or Buicks? Such external elements won’t alter the internal soul of Shakespeare’s classic, spun in the sort of creative direction seen on film when Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes starred in the similarly structured "Romeo + Juliet," which transposed the fighting families into warring gangs.

"My niece was in grade school at that time, and she was completely turned on by Shakespeare because of that film," Buckley says. "It will be interesting to see the reaction here. Theaters throughout the country do this all the time, but I understand it’s a little different for the Utah Shakespearean Festival. I think people will be very jazzed about it."

"Suddenly, I’m beginning not to trust my memory at all." — "Gaslight"

War and politics step aside for murder and madness in "Gaslight," for which most theatergoers’ frame of reference is the 1944 film of the same name starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer. Though the most celebrated adaptation, it’s actually based on Patrick Hamilton’s play, "Angel Street," and first transferred to the screen in Great Britain in 1940, before director George Cukor turned it into a film noir classic in America.

"What’s good about this play is that the red herrings live more in the world of ambiguity, so you can read into things, take it one way or another, and none of it is false," says director J.R. Sullivan.

In the thriller, a husband leaves his isolated wife home alone each evening, as she comes to believe she’s slowly slipping into insanity as objects begin disappearing, footsteps creak overhead and ghostly lights start flickering. "I was talking to (the lead actor) about how the play comes from that period of the matinee idol, where good-looking and well-spoken usually equal heroic," Sullivan says about the husband’s suave character. "But now, in a postmodern, skeptical time, we look at that with suspicion — even in presidential races. It’s a good challenge for an actor."

"How did you get suckered into buying this ball of lox?" — "Moonlight and Magnolias"

Just like a bagel, the "Gone with the Wind" screenplay is doughy, with a gaping hole in the middle. So in the wacky "Moonlight and Magnolias," producer David O. Selznick suspends production on the epic and summons scribe Ben Hecht and director Victor Fleming, the three barricaded in Selznick’s office to feverishly rework the wayward script while acting out every scene.

"I thought everybody knows ‘Gone with the Wind,’ but I’m finding my 20-something staff, many of them have never seen it," Phillips says with a bit of bemusement. "You don’t have to see the movie to laugh at the situation, but it certainly heightens it if you know the motion picture. It’s a perfect three-man vehicle."

A classic, a thriller, a farce.

Arrive, watch, enjoy.

"I came, I saw, I conquered." — "Julius Caesar"

Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at sbornfeld@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0256.

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