Meet the cast of the School of Theatre's production of 'Julius Caesar'

Amy Milgrub Marshall
March 31, 2015

The School of Theatre will present “Julius Caesar” on the steps of Old Main, at 7:30 p.m. April 15–17. Free and open to the public, the production features School of Theatre faculty member and alumnus Wendell Franklin as Julius Caesar, alumnus Nathan James as Brutus, and numerous theater undergraduate and graduate students in the other roles. This production is set in a contemporary African nation to draw parallels between modern African dictatorships and Shakespeare’s Roman Republic of 44 B.C. under the dictatorship of Julius Caesar.

Franklin, an assistant professor, graduated from Penn State’s master of fine arts (M.F.A) acting program in 2006. His theater credits include, among others, Duke Solinas in “A Comedy of Errors” and Helicanus in “Pericles” at Illinois Shakespeare Festival; Lyons in “Fences” at Arkansas Repertory Theatre and The People’s Light & Theatre Company; Macon in “Gee’s Bend” at Cleveland Play House; Jerome Kisembe in “Ruined” at La Jolla Playhouse, Huntington Theatre Company and Berkeley Repertory Theatre; “The Desire” at the Billie Holiday Theatre; and “Speak Truth to Power” at the Culture Project. 

The Second Triumvirate, the ruling body formed after Julius Caesar’s death, is played by bachelor of arts theater students Sebastian Arroyo (Mark Antony) and Vince Tran (Octavius Caesar) and M.F.A. acting candidate Aaron Densley (Marcus Aemilius Lepidus).

Arroyo, originally from El Salvador, moved to Miami in 2010. Recent roles at Penn State include Trekkie Monster in “Avenue Q,” Jackie in “The Motherf**ker with the Hat,” Don Armado in “Love’s Labour’s Lost,” and Claudio in “Funk It Up About Nothin,’” among others, as well as performances at Gilbert Theater (Fayetteville, NC) and The Next Stage (State College, Pa.). He was a part of the LAByrinth Theater Company 2014 Intensive Ensemble.

Arroyo said he’s excited to work with “Julius Caesar” director Bill Kelly. “He is a true master and craftsman who has done the play before and seen it done before enough to know how the story works best,” he noted, adding that performing on the steps of Old Main makes the production very special. “The playing space is enormous. Yes, it is outdoors and that makes it unique, but it being at Old Main is a true gift.”

Tran, a senior from Reading, Pennsylvania, who is double-majoring in theater and telecommunications, previously appeared as Benedick/Borachio in “Funk It Up About Nothin’” (Penn State Centre Stage), R.P. McMurphy in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and in No Refund Theatre’s “The Penis Monologues.” He also was the producer of the 2015 Cultural Conversations new works festival and assistant director of Penn State Centre Stage’s “O Beautiful.”

“I am most excited about this production because of its size and proportion,” said Tran. “The set is huge, the cast is huge and the vision is huge. It’s going to be one of the biggest and coolest things that we will ever see at Penn State, and it’s all for free.”

According to Tran, this play’s major lesson is that the struggle for power is timeless. “No matter what period we are in, we will always be fighting for the throne and too often, greed ends up killing us all. Even though we have seen this lesson repeated countless times throughout history and literature, how come we all fall prey to the sirens of power, wealth and glory? Are any of us free of this guilt?”

Nathan James, who received his M.F.A. in acting from Penn State in 2010, plays Marcus Brutus, the primary conspirator against Julius Caesar. An actor, poet and playwright, he recently was featured in “American Theatre” magazine with The New Black Fest collaboration, “HANDS UP: 6 Playwrights, 6 Testaments.” “The New York Times” lauded his recent portrayal of Ellis in August Strindberg’s “Easter” at the Gene Frankel Theater in New York. James received the 2014 AUDELCO Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance as Case in “Maid’s Door” at the Billie Holiday Theater. In the spring of 2014, he won first place at Amateur Night at the Apollo with an original poem, “Death of Swag.” James’ one-man show, “Growing Pains,” appeared in several festivals, including the United Solo Theater Festival, the largest solo performer festival in the world. His film/television credits include “The Wire” (HBO), “Blue Bloods” (CBS), “The Jacksons: An American Dream” (NBC) and “Pain Within” (Sundance Film Festival 2006). He has just been cast in the feature film “Service to Man,” which will film in Tuskegee, Ala.

Elizabeth Stewart, a second-year M.F.A. acting candidate from Mobile, Alabama, plays Portia, Brutus’ wife. Her Penn State main stage productions include “Blood at the Root” and “The Motherf**ker with the Hat,” and her favorite roles include Phaedra in “Phaedra,” Lady in Orange in “For Colored Girls” and Victoria in “Hat.”

“I am thrilled and artistically enlightened to play the role of Portia in this production. I am most excited to tell a famous Shakespeare story set in the political upheaval of modern-day Africa,” she said. “As an artist, I firmly believe art should remain current to successfully affect the audience. This production presents the desire for power and the lengths man will go to achieve it.”

Other conspirators against Julius Caesar are played by Nayib Felix (Metellus Cimber), Vaughn Kelsey Davis (Cassius), Marcus Munoz (Decius Brutus), Alex Pinkett (Cinna/Messala), Timothy VanBeverhoudt (Trebonius) and Steve Broadnax (Caius Ligarius).

Felix, who plays Metellus Cimber, is a research assistant in the Department of Psychology at Penn State. “Julius Caesar” is his first main stage production. “I am most excited about working with such an incredible, diverse and talented cast,” he said. “What makes this production unique is its setting and detail. Because it takes place in Africa, the audience will be hearing dialects as well as music of African culture.”

For Davis, who plays Cassius, performing in “Julius Caesar” is a dream come true. “I fell in love with the play my sophomore year of high school and ever since then it has been on my bucket list of productions to do,” said Davis, an M.F.A. acting candidate who previously performed as Lopakhin in “The Cherry Orchard,” Flip in “Our Lady of 121st Street” and Ty Janaleris in “O Beautiful,” among others. He holds a B.F.A. in performing arts from the University of Michigan at Flint.

The April 17 performance of “Julius Caesar” will be preceded by a Penn State Philharmonic Orchestra concert featuring Aaron Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait,” and both will be livestreamed by College of Communications students for World Campus and Commonwealth Campus students. In addition to the College of Arts and Architecture, the play and concert are supported financially by the University Park Allocation Committee, Institute for the Arts and Humanities, McCourtney Institute for Democracy, World Campus and Penn State Alumni Association. 

According to Davis, the cross-campus collaboration in the production is something else that sets it apart. “It’s bringing different departments together to create what I think will be a masterpiece. The setting in Africa is unique in itself, because it shows that Shakespeare’s work is not just meant for one particular time and place, but for all time and all places. He wrote for the human condition.”

Last Updated March 31, 2015