Serious Conversations, Serious History – DIJO Productions twofer travels to ancient Rome, 17th-century Amsterdam

Two recent plays on old subjects arrive at Center Stage Theater this weekend, courtesy of DIJO Productions. As he also did earlier this year, director and actor Edward Giron has decided to stage both shows at the same time, using the same cast.

“It’s almost like the world’s smallest repertory company,” says Mr. Giron. “It’s daunting. But it exposes two plays to one to two sets of audiences in a very small time frame.”

FROM TOP : In "Conversations in Tusculum" Brutus (Ed Giron) and Cassius (William Waxman), formerly Julius Caesar's strongest supporters, pursue a strategy to assassinate him. They are seen here with members of their households (Jesi Vasquez and Maia Mook). ln"NewJerusalem" Ben Israel (JerryOshinsky), Rabbi Mortera (Ed Giron) and Valkenburgh (William Waxman) are keepers ofthe uneasy peace between the Jewish community and the city of Amsterdam in 1656. Kristin Lee
FROM TOP :
In “Conversations in Tusculum” Brutus (Ed Giron) and Cassius (William Waxman), formerly Julius Caesar’s strongest supporters, pursue a strategy to assassinate him. They are seen here with members of their households (Jesi Vasquez and Maia Mook).
ln”NewJerusalem” Ben Israel (JerryOshinsky), Rabbi Mortera (Ed Giron) and Valkenburgh (William Waxman) are keepers ofthe uneasy peace between the Jewish community and the city of Amsterdam in 1656.
Kristin Lee
First of the two is “New Jerusalem,” a very different sort of work from David Ives, who is best known for cerebral, Python-esque sketch comedy and his popular rep favorite “All in the Timing.” “New Jerusalem” has Mr. Ives’ voice, but don’t expect boffo laughs in this retelling of the trial of Jewish philosopher Spinoza. Accused of heresy by the Catholic Church in Amsterdam, and put on a sort of trial by nervous Sephardic Jews who didn’t need the attention, the 23-year-old Spinoza defended his ideas. Though no record of the meeting exists, Mr. Ives recreates a likely scenario.

Spinoza philosophy suggested that God was not a human-like being, but was rather was in everything around us. That also meant that wasn’t an afterlife so much as there was entropy and mulch — not the most attractive ideas for pre-Enlightenment Europe.

Brian Kolb plays Spinoza, and DIJO’s regulars fill in the cast, with Mr. Giron as a rabbi, Jerry Oshinsky as a temple elder, and William Waxman as the Inquisitor. Jesi Vasquez plays Spinoza’s Christian wife, and Aden Hailu plays his half-sister.

“When you talk philosophy, you don’t hear Spinoza as much as Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Plato, Aristotle,” says Mr. Giron. “He’s somewhere in the middle of the list, and people with open minds should be interested in these ideas that, remember, come out of 1666. Maybe he was the first hippie.”

“Conversations in Tusculum” takes us back even farther, to the reign of Julius Caesar. The “Conversations” of the title refer to those between Brutus, Cassius and Cicero that led to the assassination of their leader, who had used all of them to his advantage before betraying them. Although this is a staged reading (unlike “New Jerusalem”), Mr. Giron says the play will be lit and properly costumed, with the hope of a full production next year.

“These are both historical dramas that come from a lot of research,” says Mr. Giron. Richard Nelson, author of “Conversation,” got a close as possible as pinpointing exactly when this meeting happened. But history aside, the author of “Goodnight Children Everywhere” and “Madame Melville” is more interested in how being intellectual is not enough when a warmonger leads the populace.

“In an election year, this was interesting to put on,” Mr. Giron says. “It’s a play about modern society, not just Roman. It doesn’t matter if it’s Democrat or Republican. It’s a play about political influence, abuse of power and policy, cronyism, and all those things that led to Caesar’s demise.

“(The play asks) when the government doesn’t act in the people’s interest, what do you do about it? Do you sit and write books about it, or do you do something else? Not that I’m advocating that they did, but this is what happens when things go down the wrong path.”

‘New Jerusalem’
When: 8 p.m. tonight, Wed.-Fri., Nov. 14-16, Mon. Tues. Sat. Nov. 19, 20 and 24. 2 p.m. Sunday. 7 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 25

‘Conversations in Tusculum’
When: 8 p.m. Sun.-Tues. and Nov. 23.; 2 p.m. Sat-Sun. and Nov. 24-25
Where: Center Stage Theater, Paseo Nuevo (upstairs), Santa Barbara
Cost: $18-$22

Information: 963-0408 or www.centerstagetheater.org

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