Brett Ashley Robinson (as Mark Antony, a man) stands over Paul Hebron (as Julius Caesar) after Caesar is assassinated. As a woman portraying a man, Robinson said, “There’s nothing about Mark Antony that is necessarily defined by his manhood … And it’s great to see these larger-than-life heroes in non-traditional bodies.” (Photo by Shawn May)

by Rita Charleston

Quintessence Theatre Group continues its seventh season with “The Power and Idealism Repertory: Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar’ presented in rotating repertory with Henrik Ibsen’s ‘The Wild Duck.’” Striving for gender parity, Quintessence presents an 11-character ensemble to explore new adaptations of timely classics. As America’s democracy is being tested and the #metoo movement is challenging us all to reconsider America’s complex history with patriarchy and the assault of women, directors Alexander Burns and Rebecca Wright revive these harrowingly relevant dramatic masterpieces to join in the conversation.

“Julius Caesar” is first up, and it continues through April 28. The play shows Caesar triumphant on the battlefield, but in the halls of government his consolidated power is feared. As Rome’s people prepare to anoint an emperor and surrender their democratic rights, a group of senatorial conspirators plot to assassinate Caesar in the name of liberty.

Shakespeare’s plays have always been gender-bending, and the production at Quintessence continues the tradition. For example, Brett Ashley Robinson, making her Quintessence debut, plays Mark Antony, the hero/playboy in this tragedy, who is also a male protagonist. According to Robinson, “Alex has continued the casting tradition because I believe he’s interested in all kinds of bodies — male and female — inhabiting the various roles. There’s nothing about Mark Antony that is necessarily defined by his manhood but his sensibilities as one who would fight for a person’s honor. And it’s great to see these larger-than-life heroes in non-traditional bodies.

“In the theater we’re constantly challenging the audience to accept people in different roles, and I believe in this instance the audience finds what we do very exciting. I think there are parts of me that are more masculine, just as many males may have feminine characteristics. We all have things about us that display a little bit of everything.”

Robinson, 33, was born in New York but raised in North Carolina. As a child she knew she wanted to be a performer but not necessarily a famous one. “My mother loved all kinds of art and exposed us to everything she could. And my father had an enormous love of film, something I inherited from him.”

As the only girl in a family of four brothers, Robinson’s love of theatrics led her to do just one play in high school, but she later enrolled at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. After receiving her BFA in Performance, she moved to New York where she managed to get various roles, mainly in regional theater.

“But I soon got bored” she recalled. “And one day a friend of mine told me about the Pig Iron School of Advanced Performance Training in Philadelphia. It sounded good to me, so I moved here a little over three years ago. I fell in love with the city and decided to stay.” That decision led to her appearing in many local productions, most recently as the “Light Princess” at the Arden and “Blood Wedding” at the Wilma.

“I love performing,” Robinson insists. “Every night in the show is different, and I love working with the different actors. We all learn together in order to make this production happen. I also find what’s thrilling abut this art form is the language we perfect to make our speeches work as we speak to the audience and hear the importance of these words. And although I’ve done some film work, I much prefer the theater. I enjoy the rehearsal process more, and I think the theater is where we are able to find our humanity.”

All performances take place at the Sedgwick Theatre, 7137 Germantown Ave., Mt. Airy. To purchase tickets, visit www.Quintessencetheater.org, or call 215-987-4450.

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