Havre Daily News
“Caesar” is the largest production undertaken by the Montana Actors' Theatre. About 30 players - a mix of newcomers and veterans - will take the stage, and the play ups the ante in costumes and special effects, cast and crew members said Tuesday.
Adapted from William Shakespeare's “Julius Caesar” by director Grant Olson, the production includes more than a few modern touches, as characters use machine guns and wear military fatigues under their togas.
The play opens tonight. It will run through Saturday and again March 29 through April 1 at the MAT/Montana State University-Northern Theatre. Shows start at 8 p.m. Free champagne will be served tonight only, beginning at 7:30 p.m. A bar sponsored by Northwinds Park Casino will open each night at 7:30.
Admittance to the play is free to MSU-N students, $9 for adults and $7 for students and seniors. Tickets are available at Creative Leisure and at the door.
The last dress rehearsal, held Tuesday night, was also the first night with blood. Olson directed the cast to “Scotchguard your togas.”
Olson said he was inspired to adapt the play during the last election, when he happened upon “Julius Caesar” and saw the similarities in the politics.
“Everyone was saying, ‘I know how this country should work,'” he said. “Shakespeare is identical. They didn't mind letting people die for their causes.”
Olson said he wanted to include both the aspects of Caesar's years and modern day. He said he wanted the play to be “timeless,” where the audience is not quite sure when it takes place.
The director said he didn't want persuade the audience to root for one character over the other.
“Others make Cassius out to be a bad guy. I didn't see it that way. I try to keep him on same level as Brutus and Octavius. No good guy, no bad guy,” Olson said.
He said the play marks a turning point for MAT. The group is able to “step up it up a level” because of community support.
Sounds used to enhance the play include taped effects and percussion performed by two live drummers housed on risers in the back corners of the theater. Peak moments startled a few spectators who attended the rehearsal. Gunshots ring out and a few grenades are thrown.
Olson said the production has come pretty close to what he had envisioned. Over the last three years, he has researched different aspects of the play, including where each of the 33 stab wounds were located on Caesar's body.
“It's a wonder Grant is still sane,” Frank Payn,who portrays Caesar, said of the time put into the production.
Payn said the role is the perfect size for him because it is not the lead - he is killed right before the intermission - and has the right number of lines to memorize because “they don't come as quick as they used to.”
Matt Warner, who portrays Antony, has been acting with MAT for about four years. He said he is especially fond of this production because the role he is playing is the furthest from his personality. Warner said he usually plays more of a caustic and fun character.
“This is not like me. I'm supposed to be very purposeful in my movement and I am none of that. He's very decisive and I am none of that,” he said.
Warner said he would like to have some of Antony's traits transfer into his own personality.
“I thought of that right away. I certainly could use that - the confidence and purpose in movement,” he said.
Olson said the production should appeal to those who are familiar with the work because the story remains intact, he has cut the play down but has not changed the meaning.
“It'll help people to see the story in a new light, and that it is very telling to today's society,” he said.
Those who are not familiar with the material will also enjoy the adaptation, Olson said.
“A lot of people put a wall up against Shakespeare, but this play is easy to follow,” he added.
Casey Pratt, who plays Octavius, said the play has been at times overwhelming.
“It's been wonderful working with Grant and Jay (Pyette, president of MAT). They want to push the limits and make things as good as they can get. They go after their dreams and then even surpass those dreams,” Pratt said before the rehearsal. “It's amazing what they have done with such limited resources.”