In Part 1 of a series of interviews with the director and cast of Prince William Little Theatre’s production of Julius Caesar – set in the Soviet Union during the August Coup of 1991 – meet Director Mary-Anne Sullivan.
Joel: Please introduce yourself and tell our readers where they may have seen you perform and/or direct on our local stages.
Mary-Anne: I’m Mary-Anne Sullivan, director of Julius Caesar with PWLT. I have been acting/directing in Metro area theaters for the past 18+ years. My last directing effort was Blithe Spirit, also for PWLT in March 2014. My last acting role was Dr. Katherine Brandt in 33 Variations with the Reston Community Players in 2013, for which I won that year’s WATCH Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role. I am a Teaching Artist and instruct Acting, Improvisation and Basic Theater Arts in the area, working with Adventure Theater, the Washington National Opera and other programs.
Have you performed in a Shakespearean production before and/or Julius Caesar before? If yes, where and who did you play?
I have performed in Shakespearean productions in the past: Othello, As you Like It and Two Gentlemen of Verona. Although Julius Caesar is my first time directing one of The Bard’s plays, I directed a similar type of production for Castaways Repertory Theatre several years ago called Good Night Desdemona (Good Morning Juliet), a satire based on Shakespeare’s Othello and Romeo and Juliet.
How did you prepare for your role as director?
I wanted to direct Julius Caesar as my first foray into Shakespeare because I love the history, and the themes of the play dealing with power struggles for empire, patriotism, duty and politics appeal to me. The idea of a dynamic leader, such as Julius Caesar, who is at the crossroads of using his power to promote the empire or himself to emperor. His choice to politic for the crown set in motion his ultimate assassination that threw the Republic into turmoil.
A monarchical dynasty surfaced with Octavian taking control as Augustus Caesar and that shift in government ultimately brought about the end of a republic with elected leadership. The Roman Empire stepped on its path toward downfall. I researched long and deep the Roman history and other areas of global parallels before I arrived at how I wanted to tell this story of the fall of empire.
I decided to set my story at the end of the Cold War in Moscow with the pivotal point of the August 1991 coup against Gorbachev, which brought about the deconstruction of the Soviet Union. I do not consider Gorbachev as being a duplicate of Julius Caesar, but his forward leadership was on a path to move the USSR more “westward,” opening the economy and loosening communist totalitarian control. While Gorbachev was not assassinated as was Julius during the “August Putsch,” the end result was the same. And by December of that year, Gorbachev resigned his post and the USSR had dissolved into 15 independent countries.
Bringing down the Iron Curtain was a global challenge for decades and I feel the Soviet model offers a parallel that works well to tell this story of ambition, conspiracy and power. The current conflict in today’s world – vis a vis the Ukraine, Syria, Afghanistan, the Global War on Terrorism – show how enduring Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar remains, continuing to highlight these poignant lessons.
I provided the cast with synopses of both Roman and Soviet histories concerning Julius Caesar’s death and the Coup of August 1991, and I had lengthy discussions of how to meld both the old and modern references to form characters and put them into our created stage world. Always a seeker … Questions! Questions! Questions!
The challenge and half the battle for any director is putting together a cast that is not only talented and fits the characters, but one that also fits your production vision. I went into auditions with trepidation – the language, the looks, the talent, the understanding. Would the actors not only get the sense of their characters but also engage with the historical import? Would they be able to create this Soviet world of a falling empire? Would I be able to find such a large mix of talent? They came, they auditioned and it was karma. I was happily blessed to put together an ensemble of truly remarkable actors who explore and readily dive into the depths to embody their characters and the greater vision.
What’s next for you as an actor or director?
Nothing right now. I hope to continue directing and acting in the area.
Julius Caesar plays from October 16 through October 25, 2015 at Prince William Little Theatre performing at the Gregory Family Theater at the Hylton Performing Arts Center on the George Mason University Campus – 10960 George Mason Circle, in Manassas, VA. For tickets, purchase them online, or at the box office.