Friends, Bakersfieldians, country folk, lend me your ears. I come not to bury "Caesar," but to promote it — and the Kern Shakespeare Festival, which is running now at Bakersfield College.
In its 34th year, the festival is a well-oiled machine, with shows this year helmed by BC instructors Brian Sivesind, doing "Julius Caesar," and Cody Ganger, overseeing "Measure for Measure."
In discussing which shows would be best for the festival, which features alternating performances over two weeks, the pair happened upon two that have much for modern audiences to consider.
"I didn't want to direct a play that says 'look at me, I'm commenting on modern society," Sivesind wrote of "Caesar" in an email. "But there is literally a line in which Casca says that Caesar could stab people's mothers and they would still support him. Sound a little familiar? So I think both of these plays speak to our current American zeitgeist."
This show features Alissa Morrow as the dictator, Tray Trimble as Marc Antony and Justin Thompson (Brutus), Kevin Ganger (Cassius), Nolan Long (Casca) and Claire Rock (Decius) as the conspirators.
While the play about the slain Roman leader is a staple in most high school English classes, "Measure," known as one of Shakespeare's "problem comedies" — because it deals with heavier issues — is not as familiar these days.
Ganger said even if the story isn't well-known, its message is "painfully relevant right now."
The central conflict involves Angelo (John Spitzer), a man in power who is known for his good reputation, who then assaults and propositions a young woman, Isabella (Mariah Bathe), who is attempting to save her brother, Claudio (Nolan Long), from execution.
Ganger wrote, "When she threatens to expose him, he responds, 'Who will believe thee, Isabel? My unsoiled name, the austereness of my life, my vouch against you, and my place in the state shall so your accusation overweigh, that you shall stifle in your own report and smell of calumny.' The public trial at the end of 'Measure for Measure' plays like the Kavanaugh hearings. It's one woman's word against the reputation of the most respected man in Vienna. Shakespeare really seems to understand the power dynamic at play."
Sivesind said he's thrilled not only to bring though-provoking shows to the stage but to continue the festival, now deep in its third decade.
"The fact that Randy Messick started this festival at BC and that we've been able to keep it going for all these years should garner some notice. We always strived to have a good mix of seasoned actors to mentor the students, so while the shows aren't always balanced as far as acting goes, it fun to see the actors grow into their roles over the years."