KAISER opens Nov. 9
During this hotly contested presidential election, fueled by a sluggish economy and a polarized electorate, Katie Davis, associate professor of theatre arts, feels like the time is right for some political commentary from long ago.
“I want to present a play that reminds audiences of the importance of the thinking voter - while giving them a theatrical experience that will surprise and delight them,” Davis says.
“What we created is KAISER.”
KAISER is Davis’ adaptation of William Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, edited and produced in the style of German Expressionist theatre of the early 1900s.
USAO’s production of the play is scheduled to open at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 9 in the Davis Hall Little Theater.
A second show is scheduled to begin at the same time on the following night, Nov. 10.
The show is free to USAO students, staff and faculty. Tickets are $10 at the door with a $5 discount for students. The play is appropriate for audience members over 13; younger audiences may be disturbed by nightmarish makeup and stylized violence.
USAO students have had the opportunity to work with the original poetry of Shakespeare’s play written in 1599.
“Whenever possible, I’ve preserved Shakespeare’s poetry,” Davis says.
“Audiences will be surprised by how much of this play has become part of our daily conversation. They will love the ideas that keep this play current.”
Though the original play is named for Julius Caesar, critics have argued for centuries that Brutus is the protagonist and Davis is inclined to agree.
“By renaming the show KAISER, we’re commenting about the government office, not the character, that is the focus of the play,” says Davis. “The story is about corrupt politicians, greedy men and their gullible followers. It’s a story of what people will do for their chance at power.”
This interpretation played into Davis’ vision of the play through the style of German Expressionist theatre.
German expressionism, a movement that spanned many different art forms, including theatre, was an outgrowth of the pessimism that swept Germany after the First World War.
“Expressionist theatre always tells the story of the soul being corrupted or destroyed by a modern world devoid of humanity,” Davis says.
“In theatre of this style, the audience doesn’t watch a mirror of reality, instead they have to interpret what is happening on stage like the psychological symbols in a dream,” Davis says. “As I read Julius Caesar, I am impressed by how many of these ideas are present. Shakespeare’s play is already Brutus’ nightmare.”
Though the majority of Americans may not be familiar with the Expressionist movement by name, it made an impact on American film. Films like Humphrey Bogart’s The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep, as classic examples of film noir, feature expressionist themes and style at their core.
While this stylistic shift may be surprising to Shakespearian purists, Davis feels confident that this production will not only breathe new life into the much-beloved play but also help fulfill her mission as director of USAO’s theatre arts program.
“The theatre arts program chooses its plays to support our curriculum. The theatre is our laboratory,” Davis explains.
“With this adaptation, we give the students experience with one of drama’s finest playwrights and expose them to an important 20th century movement that left traces all over world culture.”
Carrie Chavers, the Chickasha High School art teacher and adjunct instructor at USAO, serves as the scene designer collaborating on this production.
Her design mirrors Davis’ vision of the play with strangely angled walls and forced perspective creating a nightmare funhouse effect on stage.
Martin Reding, USAO technical director, has worked for weeks with Henry Heine, USAO alumnus, and a crew of current students to build the detailed scenery.
The University of Oklahoma did its own adaptation of the play earlier this year, setting it in the present day election cycle with a female candidate as Caesar.
The role of Brutus in KAISER is played by William Olen Cox, a senior music major from Grant.
Actors featured prominently include J.D. Meyer, a senior theatre arts major from Mustang in the role of Cassius; Jessie Merritt, a senior music major from Minco in the role of Marc Antony; and Russell Cunningham, a junior theatre arts major from Comanche in the role of Casca.
Others include Adam Bryant, a senior music major from Tuttle in the role of Octavius Caesar; Yaya Dreisker, a freshman theatre arts major from Tokyo, Japan in the role of Portia; and alum and USAO News Bureau Manager Rob Vollmar as Julius Caesar.
Incidental music and sound effects will be provided by Ariel Morgan, a senior music major from Enid.
More information about the play can be obtained by calling 574-1310.