Julius Caesar - Rice University
My first impression of this show was that it was incredibly dark. I can’t recall any bright colors or really happy characters. Everything was muted or gray. I guess that’s to be expected, though, since it is a Shakespearean tragedy. However, I was definitely not expecting the title character to die within the first half-hour or so. The first act was incredibly dramatic.
I found the style to be quite interesting. I had been expecting more of a classic interpretation of the time period, but after being initially thrown off, I warmed up to the idea. I’m not super knowledgeable about fashion through the ages, so I can’t be certain that everything fell into the same era, but I didn’t feel like there was anything fashion-wise out of place or blatantly incongruous. The only thing I thought seemed a little strange was the set. I don’t know if it was because I was expecting it to be set in old Rome, but it seemed to me to be more ancient than the outfits.
I felt like the hair and makeup never detracted from my understanding of the characters, but I don’t know that it always added. Even though I was trying to pay extra close attention to elements of makeup and design, I still didn’t really notice elements in all of the characters that I felt really helped portray their character above and beyond what the actors were doing onstage.
An example of one thing I noticed that gave me insight into a character before they had even started reciting lines was the outfit, and especially the hair of the actress playing Cassius. Having never seen or read the play, I didn’t know that ‘she’ was originally a ‘he’ until intermission when somebody mentioned it to me (though honestly, I should have, considering when the show was set). I thought her outfit and hairstyle, combined with the way she was carrying herself made it seem completely natural for her to be on the same level of authority as the other men in the play. Once I was aware that there were female actresses playing traditionally male roles, I started to notice the large changes that some of the actresses went through between scenes to help indicate that they were no longer playing the females of the time period. In particular, I thought Portia’s transformation was very drastic.
I didn’t see a whole lot of dramatic makeup on most of the cast in this show. Since they didn’t look washed out, I’m guessing they were much more heavily made up than it looked like from where I was sitting in the audience, but nothing really stood out to me. Considering that many actors played multiple, and often completely different, roles, this makes sense, since I doubt you’d want to put a really harsh angry face makeup on an actress playing a soldier who has to be a doting wife in the next scene. Then again, perhaps all of the actors just did such a great job with their makeup that it helped sell the character without seeming too over-the-top or out of place, which I imagine is ultimately the goal.
Either way, I have to mention that the lighting at some key points throughout the show brought a whole other level of emotion to some scenes. There were a couple of moments where the actors were lit in such a dramatic way that I was completely sucked into the drama of the story.
Another moment that really pulled me in was the murder of Julius Caesar himself. I thought the stabbing with all of the bloody hands and dripping blood all over his jacket was a great moment. I remember feeling bad for whoever had the job to clean all of those costumes every night, particularly Julius Caesar’s, since it was supposed to be so pristine and white at the beginning.
Overall, I think it was a very well put together show. Obviously the production value was much lower than a professional theater’s would be, but having seen my fair share of other college productions, I think that all the available resources were used very well to communicate the story. I also liked taking the Costume Construction class while this show was being put together because it allowed me to peek behind-the-scenes and then see all that hard work come to a final product.
THEA207 Production Reviews
A Midsummer Night’s Dream - Alley Theater
I think it was a really good experience for me to have seen two Shakespearian shows by two different companies. Obviously, one was a tragedy, the other a comedy, and one had a bit of a bigger budget than the other, but I was surprised once more when this show also went the route of modernizing the fashion and setting. I didn’t know it was such common practice. And if it’s not, it’s a very interesting coincidence that the two shows I saw this semester both chose that route.
I don’t think that I’d ever seen a Shakespearian comedy all the way through before this. I’d read a few, such as Twelfth Night and Much Ado About Nothing, but I never thought they were that funny in writing alone. Even though I’ve never read A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I am convinced that the visual component of this show made it a hundred times funnier than the lines or the plot could me alone. They took advantage of all of the physical humor they could. I loved all of the action sequences with tiny Hermia clambering over people and being used as a tug-o-war rope. I thought it all added an air of whimsy and nonsensical humor to the show that made it much more enjoyable.
As for the specifics of the makeup, the ones that caught my eye the most were the dancing fairies. They had huge sweeps of color around their eyes, and their braided and teased hair gave them this wild and fantastic energy. It was strangely reminiscent of the 80s, which I’ll admit seemed a little out of place, but I thought they were fun nonetheless. They really made the realm of the fairies seem completely distinct from the land of the humans.
Another thing I noticed was that both Hermia and Helena’s hair was curled. This reminded me of something we talked about earlier in the semester, that the ‘young ingénue’ always has lots of movement or volume in their hair. It’s something I had never paid attention to before, but now that it’s been pointed out, I can’t help but see it in almost everything I watch. I can’t even list all of the romantic comedies I’ve seen with a leading lady who’s hair looks tousled and effortless, but you know has hours of work behind the cascading curls. These are the sorts of elements that I don’t know that I would consciously see as improving my understanding of a particular character, although I’m sure that by this point my subconscious processes it and makes inferences on the character before they are even introduced on the stage/screen.
Speaking of hair, it took me well into act 2 to realize that Titania and Hippolyta’s wigs (worn by the same actress) were not identical. Both were black wigs in a bobbed style, but once I noticed the shiny strands in Titania’s hair I couldn’t stop. There are so many things like this that I imagine I didn’t even notice helped shape my understanding of the characters. It made me realize just how many tiny details makeup and costume designers take into account when designing for a show.
On a slightly different note, there’s no way I could review this show and not discuss the ass’ head. Once again, having no real background knowledge about the show, I was not expecting that at all. I remember reading in the program that Oberon wanted Titania to fall in love with a monstrosity of some kind, but either I missed the specifics when I read the synopsis or it was intentionally left out. I thought it was hilarious. That enormous, quite realistic looking donkey head atop a character who seems to have no idea what has happened to him is one of the most ridiculous (in a good way) things I’ve seen in a show in a long time.
This is a little bit off the topic of the show itself, but I think it speaks to the theater’s production value; the name “Alley Theater” conjures images of a dingy little theater in some sketchy part of town. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I thought the theater was beautiful, and since apparently it was recently remodeled, I commend whoever was in charge of that. Plus that display of some of the costumes used in previous shows just made me want to bust out my sewing machine and start making things myself.