By Bob Evans
A traveling troupe of actors, representing The Acting Company visited Kansas City, specifically, UMKC’s Spencer Hall to present two plays in true repertory fashion, “X or, Betty Shabazz V. The Nation, ” by Marcus Gardley, and William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” Feb. 21-23.
The timing for the play about Malcolm X occurs at the right time: Black History Month. And, coincidentally, the group opened their production in Kansas City on the anniversary of his 1965 death, Feb. 21.
The two pieces performed in repertory align well together. The classic Shakespeare piece comes alive with this talented cast and their advances with the characters and dialogue. As a high school teacher for over 30 years, I taught “Julius Caesar” for at least 15 times to sophomore students who did not care for the story or Shakespeare’s verse. For the first time, seeing a live production inspired me to enjoy the show and further instill in me that Shakespeare’s should be “seen” and not “read.” The Acting Company gave the characters a personality, a drive, humor, and drama. The director found places for levity in some of the relationships and drew the audience into the show like a high school reader could never do. Seeing the different characters and having both visual and audio stimulation definitely made the show a theatrical, dramatic piece.
This production should have been viewed by all those who have ever slogged through the Shakespearean tragedy. The play is a wonderful piece that builds the audience’s enthusiasm as they watch the conspiracy develop before them.
The dynamic casting also gave the play a boost. Mark Antony, Caesar, Marcus Brutus, and Cassius were superbly crafted by The Acting Company. Hats off to them for their characterizations. My favorite of the bunch was Cassius. His character showed the most change and layers. Second favorite was Brutus. His portrayal displayed his role in the assassination was for the good of Rome, and not for personal gain. Both actors gave dynamic performances.
The production team was led by Director, Devin Brain. Lee Savage, Scenic Design; Jennifer Moeller and Christopher Metzger, Costume Design; Mary Louis Geiger, Lighting Design; Nathan A. Roberts and Charles Coes, Music and Sound Design; Orlando Pabotoy, Fight Direction; Elizabeth Smith, Voice and Speech Consultant; McCorkie Casting, LTD., Casting; Christine Goldman Bagwell, Property Design; Lindsey Turteltaub, Production Stage Manager; Geoff Boronda, Assistant Stage Manager.
Calpurnia/Cinna/Lucilius, N’Jameh Camara; Marcus Brutus, Jimann Cole; Mark Anthony, Jonathan-David; Declus Brutus/Octavius Caesar, Gabriel Lawrence; Julius Caesar, Gabriel Lawrence; Lainie/Sandy, Austin Purnell; Soothsayer/Pindarus, Joshua David Robinson; Calus Cassius, William Sturdivant; Singer/Trebonius/Messala, Tatian Wechsler; Portia/Metellus Climber/Lucius, Chelsea Lee Williams.
“X or, Betty Shabazz Vs. The Nation”
This play asks the question of what kind of a man was Malcolm X. Was he the rebel leader of Black Muslim movement or was he the devoted husband to Betty Shabazz? The court’s out on this one. The trial is about to begin to establish what the “reality” is, what the facts “are” and where the “lies” overcome truth.
Again, the play brings up contrasting sided to the Civil Rights pioneer and leader of his group. The play tells of his introduction and rapid rise into the Nation of Islam. The play is set in a tril situation with his wife pointing blame on a conspiracy within the Islamic group and the FBI.
Again, The Acting Company chose a beautifully powered piece to stand beside “Julius Caesar.” This show so similarly develops the conspiracy theory and brings fourth a cast of characters that give the story a lush assortment of characters. The richness of this piece comes from the relationships formed and the characterizations of the individual actos.
Director Ian Bellkamp selected wisely when casting this piece. Standouts were Malcolm X, Betty Shabazz, Louis X, and Wilbert X.
The production team was led by Director, Ian Bellkamp. Scenic Design: Lee Savage; Costume Design: Candice Donnelly; Lighting Design: Mary Louise Geiger; Sound Design / Music Composition: Justin Ellington; Choreography: Byron Easley; Voice,Speech and Text Consultant: Elizabeth Smith; Fight Direction: Orlando Pabotoy; Casting: McCorkie Casting, LTD.; Property Design: Christine Goldman Bagwell; Production Stage Manager: Lindsey Turteltaub; Assistant Stage Manager: Geoff Baronda
The Judge/Secretary, N’Jameh Camara; Malcolm X, Jimonn Cole; Louis X, Jonathan-David; Wilbert X, Kevis Hillocks; Muhammad the First/FBI Agent, Gabriel Lawrence; Balliff/John All/FBI Agent, Austin Purnell; Brother Eugene X/DOC, Joshua DavidRobinson; Eligaj Muhammad/Bootblack, William Sturdivant; Stenographer/Khadijah/Secretary/Singer, Tatiana Wechsler; Betty Shabazz/Secretary, Chelsea Lee Williams
According to program notes about The Acting Company, “Founded in 1972 by legendary actor, director and producer John Houseman and Margo Harley from the first graduating class of the Drama Division of the Julliard School, The Acting Company is the only permanent, professional touring repertory company dedicated to the development of classical actors. Over the past 44 years, The Company has toured 143 procutions to millions of people in 48 states and 10 countries and has helped to launch the careers of more than 400 exceptional actors, including Kevin Kline, Patti LuPone, Rainn Wilson, Jesse L. Martin, Frances Conroy, David Ogden Stiers, Harriet Harris, David Schramm, Jeffrey Wright, Keith David and Hamish Linklater. Love’s Fire, Desire, Orchards, Puddinhead Wilson, The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter and more than a dozen other new plays and adaptions have been premiered by The Acting Company. The Company has been honored with TONY, Obie, Audelco and Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Awards.”