March 29, 2002
New 18th-century play has familiar theme of freedom
“Freedom must never die!” is the relevant message behind Colonial Williamsburg’s new evening program, “Cato,” which debuted at the Williamsburg Lodge Auditorium Thursday, March 28. Though written in 1713 by 18th-century playwright Joseph Addison, “Cato” is set in 46 B.C. in the North African military encampment of Utica. The title character, Cato the Younger (as opposed to his great-grandfather Cato the Elder, a Roman statesman and moralist), is the leader of an exiled rebel army, fighting for freedom against the central authority in Rome. An opponent of Julius Caesar, Cato was known for his conservatism and refusal to compromise.
After 16 months of extensive research on the play, an ensemble of nine interpreters and two rotating casts of Fifers and Drummers perform the tragedy as it was presented by the Continental Army at Valley Forge during the Revolutionary War.
“Cato” is the second play in the theatrical series titled, “The Interpreter’s Showcase.” Unlike the previous Saturday night play series, plays offered in the “showcase” format will give visitors a glimpse behind the scenes as the actors themselves offer insight into the minds of the people of the past who were involved in 18th-century theater, sharing the views and opinions of the players, playwrights and critics of the time. This unique opportunity provides for contextualization throughout the performance allowing for a better understanding of the theater of the past and the present.
Stan Beadle, veteran of Colonial Williamsburg’s evening programs, assumes the role of Cato, while Rodney Pressley, Sam Miller, Davis Archart, Scott Green, Richard Josey, Scott Crabbs, Shannon Fair and Melissa March, portray characters Syphax, Marcus, Portius, Sempronius, Juba, Lucius, Marcia and Lucia, respectively.
“Although we’ve been conducting more in-depth research on this project for the past 16 months, we’ve been incorporating parts of the play in our evening programs for about five years,” said the play’s director Diane Elliott. “We felt it was particularly timely to do the entire play now considering the world’s current situation. The play’s message of freedom is very relevant today and is evident in Cato’s words:
‘Remember, O my friends, the laws, the rights,
The gen’rous plan of pow’r deliver’d down,
From age to age, by your renown’d forefathers,
(So dearly bought, the price of so much blood)
Oh, let it never perish in your hands!
But piously transmit it to your children.
Do thou, great liberty, inspire our souls,
And make our lives in thy possession happy,
Or our deaths glorious in thy just defense.’”
“Cato” is free to Colonial Williamsburg employees based on space availability. The 18th-century play series, including “Highlife Below Stairs” and “Clandestine Marriage” can be seen Thursdays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. in the Williamsburg Lodge Auditorium. Check Colonial Williamsburg News for play dates.