Immortal Longings, which can be seen on zoom Tuesday and Wednesday, September 8 and 9, represents a new chapter in the evolution of Naked Shakes, the UCSB theater program dedicated to showcasing actors’ passions through the playwright’s language. In a bold response to the constraints imposed by the pandemic, this production expands the scope and ambition of the program’s stripped-down, text-centered approach. The original script adaptation by director Irwin Appel joins Julius Caesar to Antony and Cleopatra for a full account of the story of Mark Antony, who is a main character in both of these Shakespearean tragedies. Interstitial passages of exposition, handled adroitly by Enobarbus (Alexandra Singleton), help guide the audience through the labyrinthine turns of plot in this grand serial. We see the assassination of Julius Caesar in the context of a longer saga detailing imperial Rome’s relations, both political and intimate, with its Mediterranean rival Egypt.
Part one delivers a thrilling version of Julius Caesar, complete with that play’s incomparable set pieces of rhetorical virtuosity over the corpse of the fallen leader. As Marcus Brutus, Cyrus Roberts revels in his character’s complexity, riding waves of deep feeling that alternately merge and collide with those of his co-conspirator Caius Cassius (Sara Neal). The ensemble conveys the spooky atmosphere of Rome on the eve of Caesar’s murder with exhilarating consistency. It seems everyone in the city has been caught up in the frenzy of Caesarism either as friend of foe. As Julius, returning BFA program alumni Jarred Webb provides this cyclone of public hope and fear with an appropriately enigmatic center around which to whirl.
In part two, the center of gravity shifts to Egypt and Cleopatra, who is portrayed in an outstanding performance by Shekinah Bryant. Bryant digs deep into this nearly unfathomable role, successfully embodying a figure whose consciousness flickers from human vulnerability to divine self-confidence sometimes within the space of a single line of dialogue. Harry Davis develops Mark Antony along similar lines, carrying the audience to the heights of love at breakneck speed only to tumble that much further into the depths of despair and humiliation.
The attention to detail shown in every aspect of this production makes a delight of what otherwise might be a distinct deficit, which is the fact that we must watch it on zoom. From carefully timed entrances that synchronize with the naming of characters in the play, to a delightfully rowdy party boat sequence, the cast and crew display an abundance of clever ideas about what can bring the now familiar zoom grid to expressive life. For those who have already developed a taste for this new form of theater, Immortal Longings will be a treat; for those who have yet to experience theater on zoom, it’s a great place to start. For information, visit theaterdance.ucsb.edu.
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