Thursday, November 21, 2019

playwright Kaitlyn Riordan on her text Portia's Julius Caesar
"Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears.' I got to perform this great text when I lived to New York City and was in an all-female production of Julius Caesar. I got to win a crowd over to my side, to manipulate the plebeians, and to win the day! Playing Marc Antony was glorious and as I looked around Shakespeare's work for other tragic heroes to play, I noticed something: they were pretty much all male. I just do all-female productions from here on in, re-imagining male roles as female ones? But what if I want to see women at the heart of Shakespearean tragedies, being women? Talking about female issues as well as the state of the Republic? And what if I also want to know what the men were up to? How do I have it all, you ask? Well...Portia's Julius Caesar is my attempt at having it all. The highlights of Shakespeare's play along with the female perspective front and centre; the perspective which we barely see in the original. By exploring themes of motherhood, friendship, and moral dilemma from a different lens, the play only becomes richer for having more at stake. Hearing from the wives, mothers, lovers, and slaves of the powerful men at the centre of Julius Caesar, we encounter a depth of point of view in which more people can see themselves reflected. It doesn't lead to easy answers, just as in the original play - How do we deal with a budding dictator? How do we preserve a world which we see crumbling before our eyes? Is violence ever the answer? Asking those questions of an audience is exactly what Shakespeare did, and with Portia's Julius Caesar, the character asking those questions also happens to be breast feeding at the same time."

Portia’s Julius Caesar
Nov 15 - Nov 30, 2019
By Kaitlyn Riordan
Inspired by and adapted from the works of William Shakespeare
Directed by Eva Barrie

Named one of the top shows of 2018 by the Toronto Star after its summer premiere, Portia’s Julius Caesar is an unapologetically feminist take on Shakespeare’s classic account of political upheaval.

Through the eyes of a Roman wife, Portia’s Julius Caesar uses a mix of new words and the rich poetry from over 20 of Shakespeare’s works to explore the role of women in classic story-telling, ancient Roman society and politics.

The current Hart House production of Kaitlyn Riordan's acclaimed take on the Shakespearean text (Julius Caesar) is an action-packed, thoroughly balanced feminist version of a formerly 'male' text. Although adept at creating beautiful speeches and moving moments for his female characters, Shakespeare's works frequently moved women to the margins, utilizing them as necessary yet largely understated social and cultural 'props' that added to the plot yet rarely had the opportunity to fully speak their names and their relevant social claims to any great effect. In the hands of a very capable and powerful cast, Riordan's text allows both female and male characters to take control over an unwieldy and complex historical moment and respond accordingly. 

Moveable sets give the playing space an intriguing and varied presence throughout as the action plays out over this one hour and fifty minute drama. Moving with impressive ease, holding a fine rhythmic pacing through Eva Barrie's intricate direction, the action moves into the auditorium at various intervals, giving the play an  immersive aspect as friends, Romans and countrymen empower the audience and the plot with a sense of truly hearing the cries and pleas of ordinary people being involved in and affected by murderous and life-changing political shenanigans implemented by the rich and infamous.

Riordan has infused her text with her own take on Shakespearean language, as well as references to famous lines from various plays, and in one instance an iconic poem. An especially powerful moment occurs near the end when a lead female character shares the famous Fortune and Men's Eyes sonnet, framing the closing moments with a strong message regarding the plight of those living in the shadow of predominantly male power. This climactic scene lends the concept of disgrace a poignant, solitary, meditative, and truly moving intertextual tone - providing spectators with ways in which to view the overall import of this significant feminist version of an old male tale. By giving these powerfully elegant words to a female character Riordan provides her audience with possibilities regarding the ways in which one woman's grieving strength, in a sea of male power, may enact from within a mode in which to cope with the final tragic moments, through a kind of unnamed romance, of so many blighted lives.

Sonnet 29       When, in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes

When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
(Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth) sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
       For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
       That then I scorn to change my state with kings.


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