Ian Belknap, artistic director for New York-based The Acting Company, sees plenty of similarities between his new drama about civil rights leader Malcolm X and the revival of William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.
“Both stories are about betrayal and political leadership gone awry,” Belknap says. “What do we do when people disagree about leaderships and the result of one of the most violent political acts is assassination.”
The company is bringing both plays to Arizona in January and February. They will appear at the Herberger Theater Center January 31 to February 1; Mesa Arts Center February 2 to February 6, and NAU’s Clifford E. White Theatre February 10 and February 11.
The company, founded in 1972 by John Houseman, will present the world premiere of Marcus Gardley’s “X” and a revival of William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” which will be presented in repertory at each stop.
The two dramas examine the charismatic leaders who rise only to fall victim to rivalry, resentment and retribution. Gardley is a multiple award-winning playwright whose works include “Desire Quenched by Touch” (The Acting Company Off-Broadway production), “The House That Will Not Stand” and “The Gospel of Lovingkindness.” Belknap directs “X” and Devin Brain, The Acting Company’s associate artistic director, directs “Julius Caesar.”
It takes special actors to portray assassinations on stage, Belknap says.
“You have to remember it’s a play,” he says. “You have to find a different vocabulary to create an assassination on stage. From that standpoint, you can’t do it realistically, but it opens the possibilities of how you can do it theatrically.
“We have a great group of actors this year who are really, really talented. Jimonn Cole is playing Brutus and Malcolm X.”
Cole is a theater veteran who was trained at Juilliard. “X” was commissioned Gardley two years ago, and will make its premiere in Phoenix.
“X” and “Julius Caesar” will feature the same company of actors, Belknap says.
“They’re going to reflect one another through their performances, in both stories,” he says. “Repertory is on display here. In ‘X,’ what’s important is his change of platform after he went to Mecca.
“I think so much of what people remember of Malcolm X is violence and resistance and wanting to create separatism between races. He had a reimagining and reinvention on a holy pilgrimage to Mecca and wanted to form a coalition around acceptance. Right around that time, he was assassinated.”
Belknap says all the principals involved in the stories were “terrific astute people and wonderful orators.”
“These are vital stories that need to be told right now,” Belknap says. “It’s our hope that these stories will enact audience members to think about change.”
“X” and “Julius Caesar,” Herberger Theater Center, 222 E. Monroe, Phoenix, 602.258.9481, herbergertheater.org, 7 p.m. Tuesday, January 31 (“Julius Caesar”) and 7 p.m. Wednesday, February 1 (“X”), $25.
“X” and “Julius Caesar,” Mesa Arts Center’s Piper Repertory Theatre, One E. Main St., Mesa, 480.644.6500, mesaartscenter.com, 7:30 p.m. Thursday, February 2 and Friday, February 3 (“X”) and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, February 4 (“Julius Caesar”), $30.
“X” and “Julius Caesar,” NAU’s Clifford E. White Theatre, 1 S. Knoles Drive, Flagstaff, 888.520.7214, 7:30 p.m. Friday, February 10 (“X”), 7:30 p.m. Saturday, February 11 (“Julius Caesar”), $8-$14.