Artistic Director Kevin Finkelstein on Molotov’s ‘Julius Caesar’ by Joel Markowitz

Why would Molotov Theatre Group pick a Shakespearean classic to produce? I asked Molotov’s Artistic Director Kevin Finkelstein to fill us in.

“The decision to do Shakespeare is a selfish one: in addition to fitting the Grand Guignol aesthetic, Shakespeare is always a lot of fun. When we first started looking at Julius Caesar, we were contacted by Shawn Northrip. Turns out Alex Zavistovich had this idea several years ago for a “modified” version of the show, and Shawn had started penning it. After reading his first draft, I was incredibly excited to put up his adaptation. In addition to the traditional aspects of Julius Caesar that dovetail Molotov (the fights, the deaths, the blood), Shawn’s adaptation brings a mystical element that really sets this production apart.

Casting was actually the easiest part. This show has eight actors, and only one (Genevieve James Blasi) has worked with Molotov before. There’s such an abundance of Shakespeare talent in DC,” and we’re fortunate to have actors like Brandon Mitchell and Evan Crump, whose knowledge of the Bard made our rehearsal process significantly smoother. Even our brand spanking new actors (Jessica Thorne, Brian Wahlqusit, Jen Speerstra and Angela Pirko) took the text, effects and fight choreography with ease. The only difficult part of casting was our need to recast Caesar, who is played by James Radack. He came in about a week before tech and exceeded our expectations significantly.

1409 Playbill Cafe closed its doors last year, leaving us to look for a new home. This season, our first and third shows will be at The Shop at Fort Fringe. Anytime you enter a new space for the first time, you’re going to have unexpected challenges (what’s the best way to work with the rep light plot? is there anything to be done about the traffic noise on 6th? where should we park?). But the benefits far outweighed everything else: having such a significantly bigger space is the major reason we could do this production: had we been back in Playbill, An Adaptation of Julius Caesar would never have worked. We wanted this show to feel epic, and we’ve managed that in part because of the space we’re in.

The bigger challenges are the ones of our own making: every show Molotov puts up forces us to learn more, to push the bar further, to try and do more. JC includes an eight person fight and an average of one piece of violence every 3.89 pages.

Audience reactions have been mostly favorable, but how those reactions come about has been interesting to see. Everyone reacts to violence differently; some people look away, some laugh, some scream out “Hell yes!” We’ve also had quite a few high school students come see this show, which isn’t our typical audience. It’s always great to see them watch, because usually they haven’t seen much live theatre.

Angela Pirko (Soothsayer), Jessica Thorne (Portia), Genevieve James Blasi (Cassius), and Brandon Mitchell (Brutus). Photo by Kevin Finkelstein.

Because of the “hooks” within the script, we wanted to treat this show with respect. It would have been easy to slide in a campy, hokey production, but this script (and these actors) are better than that. So our production is set very traditional. We lost our Resident Sound and Lighting Designers this year (both moved to different parts of the country), so we brought in Jason Aufdem-Brinke to design lights, Mehdi Raoufi to design sound, and Koki Lortkipanidze to design music. Heather Whitpan is still our Costume Designer, and, of course, Alex Zavistovich can’t be beat when it comes to effects, makeup and fight choreography.

Here are some quotes from our cast:

Jessica Thorne (Portia), Genevieve James Blasi (Cassius), Brandon Mitchell (Brutus), Brian Wahlquist (Mark Anthony), James Radack (Julius Caesar), and Jennifer Speerstra (Calupurnia). Photo by Kevin Finkelstein.

Brandon Mitchell (Marcus Brutus): “Cut a hand here, throw some blood there.. while that might sound simple, bringing this Molotov show to life has been one of the most intensive, physically demanding, how-did-I-get-a-bruise-there, rewarding theatrical experiences I have had, and it could not be done without the strong bond of the cast and support of the technical team.”

Shawn Northrip (Adapter):  “The cast makes this show great. Without them and the rest of Molotov’s team, I’m just a lonely guy with a word processing program and too much time on his hands.”

Finally, DCMTA readers can purchase $10 tickets for the show online with code ROMANS.”

An Adaptation of Julius Caesar runs through April 7, 2012 at Molotov Theatre Group at Fort Fringe – 607 New York Ave NW Washington, DC. For tickets call  (866) 811-4111, or purchase them online.


Read Erica Laxson’s review of An Adaptation of Julius Caesar.

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