Directed and Choreographed by: Mark-Brian Sonna Assistant Director: Dylan Peck
Starring: Michelle Mays Blake Owen Anne Taylor Sherri Small Michael Rathbun Katherine Reynolds Megan Duelm Rey Torres
October 13 – November 5, 2011
A World Premiere of the Roman tragedy from circa 90 AD. It is the true story of Octavia and Nero and their doomed relationship. Octavia was Nero’s first wife.Though she is in love with the very young Nero, she discovers that her spouse was complicit in the death of her brother Brittanicus who should have inherited the throne.To complicate matters further Nero has fallen out of love with her and wishes to pursue a different relationship.If she agrees to divorce him she will lose all her power over Rome.If she stays with him she is afraid that he might possibly arrange her death.Nero, on the other hand, knows he is unpopular since he married into the royal family and was assigned as emperor. He is afraid because the public favors Octavia; if he were to divorce her, or should anything happen to her, he will be overthrown or murdered.This play was never performed because Maternus angered the Roman Emperor Domitian for his political writings attacking the ruling class’ tyranny and was executed because of it. There is no historical or archeological record of this play ever being performed and it gives us much pleasure to present this play’s first stage production.
Reviewed Performance 10/27/2011
Reviewed by Shelley Kaehr, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
I've seen many shows I like at MBS Productions but none so much as this latest, Octavia, which was written way back in or around the year 90AD.
The story is based on true events surrounding the rise of the Roman Emperor Nero and his wife Octavia. Although the writing credits Curiatius Maternus with penning this masterpiece, nobody knows for sure if he wrote it or not. The play was banned in Rome for the blasphemous depictions of the tyrannical Roman government.
The story began when Octavia, brilliantly portrayed here by Michelle Mays, lamented the recent death of her brother Britannicus and Nero's mother, Agrippina, played by Sherri Small.
Octavia's husband had lost all favor with her and she felt alone and betrayed, and shared her concerns with her nurse portrayed by Anne Taylor. Taylor provided a sturdy support system to poor Octavia, who passionately bemoaned her fate. She knew if she did not soon produce an heir she too could face death.
Throughout the play, and with brilliant choreography, the ghost of Agrippina swam forth from the ocean and floated into scenes, tormenting the living from beyond the grave. I absolutely loved these scenes and the makeup design on Agrippina was stunning! She was covered in blue with deep veins all over her body and Small played the part of the ghoul with great mastery.
Small was lifted in the air by creatures that followed her from the bowels of hell. She appeared to float above the other actors on stage and at times swooped sideways, reaching out her unearthly hands to touch and damn those who sent her to an early grave. Awesome job on all of these scenes! I absolutely loved it!
But still, the youthful Nero, powerfully portrayed by Blake Owen, was set in his ways. He was not yet the cruel dictator he would ultimately become but his ego was expanded such that he no longer desired his wife, and had taken up with a lady of the evening, Poppea, played by Katherine Reynolds. Reynolds did a great job of initially playing the victim then damning Octavia to her final fate as the new lady in Nero's life in the second part of the play.
Nero took council from Seneca, played by Michael Rathbun. I'd seen Michael in several other shows. He did a super job here as the wise sage but even Seneca's good advice and sound judgment could not stop Nero from enacting his evil upon his wife and family.
Megan Duelm as the chorus and Rey Torres as the messenger provided sounding boards and background information to bring the audience up to speed with the public outcry concerning Nero's power trip.
The music before the show and the sounds of the undead were amazing. In one scene, the chorus became the ocean, depicted by a piece of blue velvet, which swallowed up the already dead Agrippina. Director Mark-Brian Sonna and Assistant Director Dylan Peck did a truly amazing job.
Kudos also goes to costume designer Larry E Groseclose. I paid close attention to the details here. Cast members were attired in plain Romanesque gowns with cloth draped over them. The sandals were a nice touch too. I felt like we were in the period and right in the middle of the uprising.
There was much here to digest in terms of content, understanding where all this fit in the context of Roman history. I found the show absolutely fascinating and reminiscent of a Shakespeare piece. King Lear and Macbeth came easily to mind. I could not help but believe Sonna really started something with this show. This needed to be seen in New York and around the world!
Mark-Brian Sonna has once again proven he is not only a risk taker, but a true pioneer in theater. Congratulations to all at MBS for a true success!
I hope all you theater goers out there will consider seeing this show while you still can. I promise one day you'll be paying the big bucks on Broadway, wishing you saw it like I did ? in it's infancy, and with such a super cast and crew right here in our own back yard.
OCTAVIA MBS Productions Stone Cottage Theater, 15650 Addison Road, Addison, TX, 75001 Plays through November 5th
Thursdays Fridays & Saturdays at 8:00pm, Sunday matinees at 2:00pm Special Halloween show Monday, October 31st at 8:00pm. Tickets for shows range from $18 to $24
Monday October 31 ?Special Halloween Show you receive a free goodie bag with yummies and gifts with your ticket purchase $24
KERA member may purchase 2 for the price of 1 ticket by calling 214-477-4942.
Tickets can be purchased online at www.mbsproductions.net or by calling 214-477-4942, or at the theatre box office 30 minutes before curtain time.
MBS Productions presents a banned play about tyrant Nero's fiddling
By Penny Rathbun, Frisco Enterprise, Star Newspapers.
Nero was the ultimate bad boy.
It's true many women are attracted to bad boys and Nero fills that bill. Dark, brooding, wears the armor well, but charming enough to take home to meet mom, unless mom has already irritated him and he's had her executed.
This is how Nero is portrayed in the MBS Productions current show, “Octavia” now playing at the Stone Cottage in Addison .
Two Frisco residents have roles in “Octavia.” Blake Owen plays the Roman emperor Nero and Michael Rathbun plays Nero's teacher Seneca.
Owen was recently seen in Frisco Community Theatre's production of “Witness for the Prosecution.” You could see the bad boy tendencies in that role. He makes full use of them as Nero.
He seeks out Seneca's advice but pays no attention to it and eventually has him killed, but it takes him awhile to get around to it because he feels kind of sentimental about the old guy.
Owen's Nero is chillingly evil, but he manages to make it seem so unintentional. He can't help it if he gets bored with his wife, who is also his sister and wants to send her permanently out to sea so he can marry his latest mistress Poppea. Who could blame him?
Michael Rathbun as Seneca pontificates expertly. He seems nonplussed by Nero and can't understand why Nero just won't mend his ways. Seneca seems to be just on the verge of dementia as he delivers his monologue.
Michelle Mays plays the title character, Octavia, Nero's wife and sister. She is consumed by her fears and neurosis, but who wouldn't be neurotic married to Nero? Mays' performance is heartrending as the audience watches her become more and more consumed with the knowledge of what is about to happen to her.
Her nurse, played by Anne Taylor, isn't much help, but she has a lot of serious stuff to say about it. The nurse character provides Octavia with an anchor, but her wisdom cannot stave off any of Nero's disasters.
Katherine Reynolds as Poppea, Nero's latest infatuation gives an excellent portrayal of increasing terror as she realizes what her fate truly is. When Nero killed her husband that should have been a clue.
Sheri Small plays Nero's mother, Agripinna. She has a lot of misgivings about her boy.
She also has some of the most memorable moments on stage. She is lifted by another actor from place to place on stage. This is a simple, but arresting effect.
The play tells the story in bits and pieces through the characters' various speeches rather than conventional scenes that tell a linear story.
Director Mark-Brian Sonna translated the ancient Roman script by Curitius Maternus. This play fits well with MBS Productions' custom of presenting only world premiers. This is likely a premier in both time and space. “Octavia” was banned in its own time because those in power didn't like the unflattering way Maternus portrayed the government and probably was never produced.
The play is densely written and comments at length on the nature of power and how it should be used. There could be some reminders here of political situations in our own time.
This play should be seen, but don't wait for it to tell you the story in nicely-wrapped pieces. You will have to listen and pay attention, but there is a lot of interesting things to watch and hear while you are doing that.
The play is at the Stone Cottage in Addison from October 21 through October 31. Visit www.MBSProductions.net or call 214-477-4942 for ticket information.
Premiere presentation of lofty, intriguing Octavia at MBS Productions - 4 STARS -
Christopher Soden, Dallas GLBT Arts Examiner
There is much to admire in Octavia, the latest offering by MBS Productions, and Mark-Brian Sonna, the man behind the theatre company. Mr. Sonna continues to excavate intriguing historical plays (among other projects) translate them himself, then conceive them using minimal set, props and costumes. Though “minimal” here does not suggest meager or threadbare. There is something close to magic in the way he uses vivid fabric and tantalizing, implacable movement (similar to choreography) to create an ingenious, absorbing spectacle for the audience. Mr. Sonna would seem to be on a mission to share his passion for classics such as history, mythology, ancient tragedy and satire. And considering the demands of that mission, he does extremely well.
Octavia was the step-sister and first wife of Nero. Agrippina was Nero’s mother, Seneca his tutor and mentor. Caligula was Nero’s uncle and Claudius adopted him, making Nero an heir to throne of emperor. Octavia is set early in Nero’s career, before he is made emperor, after Agrippina’s mysterious death (so she appears as a ghost) and on the verge of Octavia’s banishment. There are a few facts to bear in mind. Like his uncle Caligula, Nero was ruthless, depraved, ambitious and insane. He wasn’t completely off the charts, like Caligula, but he was dangerous and non compos mentis (not in his right mind). Octavia works mostly because the title character could have easily cost her husband politically, and Nero never let his conscience eclipse expediency. This is pretty much the premise of the piece. You might say it’s an augury to impending catastrophes.
Sonna makes it clear in the program notes that Octavia, written by Curiatius Maternus, has not been performed in nearly 2000 years (if ever) because it was highly critical of the government and ruler of his day. There were other cultural and logistical problems since then : “…it was thought as being too dense and difficult.“ Sonna goes on to describe a subsequent version that was merely a paraphrase of the text, with lines omitted, etc… Therein lies a problem. Sonna is so devoted to the reader’s experience on the page, that he has trouble transliterating content to cogent performance. His semiotic language (the activity and placement of the actors) is stirring, but there’s simply too much text for the audience to process. It is possible to distill a story down to its essence, without eviscerating it. Like the difference between flash fiction and poetry. I applaud Mr. Sonna’s lofty intentions. The actors make a valiant and focused effort to deliver their lines with clarity and involvement and they are quite impressive. Octavia is a brisk, compelling evening of theatre.
MBS Productions proudly presents Octavia, playing October 13th-31st, 2011. Stone Cottage Theatre, 15650 Addison Road, Addison TX 75001 214-477-4942. Starring: Michelle Mays (Octavia) Anne Taylor (nurse) Blake Owen (Nero) Michael Rathbun (Seneca) Megan Duelm (Chorus) Rey Torres Messenger) Katie Reynolds (Poppea) and Sherri Small (Agrippina).
MBS Productions digs up a Roman tragedy about the wife of Nero.
Octavia presented by MBS Productions review
by Mark Lowry
published Friday, October 21, 2011
In your studies of the most classical of playwrights, the ones whose names are followed by two- or three-digit dates with "B.C." or "A.D." next to them, the name Curiatius Maternus probably didn't pop up. It's not one like Euripides, Sophocles or Plautus, whose plays are still performed with some regularity.
Like many artists speaking out against the government under oppressive regimes, Maternus, who lived in the first century A.D., was silenced, and his work lost. The play Octavia that opens MBS Productions' seventh season is commonly attributed to fellow Roman Seneca, but artistic director Mark-Brian Sonna makes the case in his director's notes that it's indeed by Maternus, even though records indicate that only four of his plays were performed, and Octavia wasn't one of them. That, and Seneca is a character in Octavia, which is about the wife of one of world history's most famous emperors, Nero.
Sonna translated his version from Latin (one of seven languages he can read and translate), and thus, this production is billed as a world premiere, which fits in with MBS' mission. This outfit only produces world premieres, either original work or new translations/adaptations.
Michelle Mays plays the title character, who's dealing with Nero (Blake Owen) as he's rising to power, and will have an affair with Poppea (Katherine Reynolds). He's already killed his mammy, Agrippina (Sherri Small), who appears in the play in ghost form. (It's thought that she committed suicide, but that was a cover-up for a murder.)
Directed and choreographed by Sonna and with draped cloth-costumes by Larry E. Groseclose, the production puts some of Sonna's old tricks to good use, such as faceless, moaning creatures, and actors lifting other actors.
It's quite fascinating to hear these words of an ancient tragedy, based on real-life happenings. Sonna keeps the dialogue and the pacing lyrical.
As for the acting, the women in the cast get it, digging into the language and not stumbling over it, especially Mays, Reynolds and Anne Taylor as Octavia's Nurse. Taylor makes a strong conscious for Octavia, who's distraught over what's happening with her husband. Octavia knows that things aren't going to work in her favor (perhaps she's read some of the earlier ancient tragedies from that other Mediterrean pennisula), and there's an impending sense of doom in Mays' performance.
The men don't have as much luck. Michael Rathbun is wobbly on lines and characterization as Seneca. And although the Nero in this play is a young man and not yet the monster we know he'll become, Owen comes across as little more than a bewildered bohunk. It's hard to believe his Nero will change the course of Western civilization.
Still, no matter who wrote this Octavia, MBS does a service by excavating a classical piece and making the case that it should have been studied and performed alongside the other great ancient tragedies.
By Curiatius Maternau
Translated by Mark-Brian Sonna
Mark-Brian Sonna Productions
“The play takes place in front of the Imperial Palace of Rome, overlooking the city.June 62 AD.All the events described in this play are true.”Thus the program sets up the play for us.From discussions following the play with the director, Mark-Brian Sonna’s translation of the play marks it’s first run since it was written centuries ago.
This play is sad and it’s dark, depicting the rise to power and descent into madness of the Roman Emperor Nero and based on his sister/wife Octavia.Mr. Sonna’s choreography and set design are minimalist utilizing costumes and a very few props.
That said, the play is well done.The speeches of the characters are presented with emotion which, especially in the case of “Nero” (Blake Owen), really sells the story.Mr. Owen’s “mad” glower is truly frightening as his character begins that descent into madness, ordering the burning of Rome to distract rioters.
Octavia is worth the price of the $22.00 ticket.The location at Stone Cottage Theater is cozy and the smaller audience adds to the viewing pleasure.This play is one of a series of “World Premiers” which the troupe is proud to present.
They reserve the right to perform encore performances of plays which receive the right amount of acclaim.One such event is their performance of The Beulaville Baptist Book Club Presents: A Bur-less-Q Nutcracker! (November 25 – December 27).I am looking forward to see and reviewing this presentation!
Directed and Choreographed by: Mark-Brian Sonna
Starring: Michelle Mays, Anne Taylor, Megan Duelm, Katherine Reynolds, Sherri Small, Michael Rathbun, Blake Owen, Rey Torres