Sejanus key art.png

BENEFIT READING

SEJANUS HIS FALL

by BEN JONSON
adapted directed by NATHAN WINKELSTEIN
LIVESTREAM RECORDING

This event premiered LIVE on Monday, May 17. The recording was available until Friday, March 19 – then it disappears.

These benefit readings are Pay What You Can. All of our current programs are free. But this is only possible through the support of people like you. Please consider reserving your ticket with a tax-deductible donation.

Directed and Adapted by NATHAN WINKELSTEIN

Featuring Shirine Babb, Grantham Coleman, Keith David, Manoel Felciano, Denis O’Hare, Matthew Rauch, Liv Rooth, Laila Robins, Stephen Spinella, Emily Swallow, Raphael Nash Thompson, Tamara Tunie, and James Udom

First performed in 1603, the start of the Jacobean era, Ben Jonson’s tragedy of epic proportions is an incisive portrayal of political cronyism, sycophancy, and power. Tiberius is the Emperor of Rome. Sejanus is his right-hand man. But—in a society where books are burnt, “knowledge is made a capital offense,” and free men have become “the prey of greedy vultures and spies”—factions are forming behind each of these charismatic leaders. Jonson’s linguistically rich play has startling significance today in its exploration of treason and totalitarian tyranny. Sejanus sets his sight on Emperorship. No one can stop him. His fall is inevitable.

Watch a video introduction

Download the program book

Download the character map

Read the program note

SEJANUS HIS FALL premiere LIVE on Monday, May 17, 2021 A recording of that livestream was available until 7:00 PM EST on Friday, May 21 – then it disappeared.

Bull Session.png

BULL SESSION | SEJANUS HIS FALL

Thursday, May 20, 2021 | 7:30 PM EST

LIVESTREAM

An interactive discussion with director NATHAN WINKELSTEIN, scholar HENRY S. TURNERand members of the company.

 
THE CAST

Red Bull Theater wishes to express its gratitude to the Performers’ Unions: ACTORS’ EQUITY ASSOCIATION, AMERICAN GUILD OF MUSICAL ARTISTS, AMERICAN GUILD OF VARIETY ARTISTS, and SAG-AFTRA through Theatre Authority, Inc. for their cooperation in permitting the Artists to appear in this program.

Sejanus Character Map.png
 
ABOUT THE PLAY

Ben Jonson’s Sejanus (1603-5) is a play written against a backdrop of conspiracy and domestic terrorism. In Tiberian Rome, rival factions negotiate a city ruled by the whims of a tyrant, who has delegated his authority to his new favorite, the violent former soldier Sejanus, and retreated to his beloved pleasure and torture chambers at his coastal villa in Capri. The play opens with ineffectual politicians whispering in a corridor about the fast-rising Sejanus and his shadowy crowd of enablers; it ends with savage images of a violent crowd storming the Capitol to tear Sejanus and his children limb from limb. In Jonson’s hands, tragedy becomes a remarkably modern exercise in political horror, as the play discloses a world governed only by a relentless will-to-power and the human capacity for betrayal. Spies hide spider-like on ceilings, and private speech circulates with alarming speed in a public echo-chamber of conspiracy theories, fear, and self-promotion. Mob violence has replaced representational politics, a new generation of leaders who might restore the liberal legacies of Rome are assassinated one by one, and suicide has become the only possible act of individual resistance.


Jonson wrote Sejanus in the summer of 1603, but its dark vision of corruption, betrayal, and absolute power can feel startlingly relevant today. The play was performed by Shakespeare’s play company, and Shakespeare himself played a role, although we don’t know which one—this is his last appearance in any cast list. Jonson was subsequently charged with “popery and treason” by Lord Henry Howard, a closet Catholic who was publicly (and perhaps predictably) an active anti-Catholic agitator. When Jonson eventually published Sejanus in 1605, the time was even more inauspicious. He would be imprisoned the same year for Eastward Ho (among other details, the play mocked the accent of the new King James I of Scotland); on November 5, a faction of regional Catholic conspirators came to London to blow up the House of Lords, kill the King, and reinstate a Catholic monarchy. Inconveniently, it happened that Jonson—himself a converted Catholic—had eaten dinner a month earlier with two of the primary conspirators in the Gunpowder Plot, and after yet another round of questioning by authorities, he was dispatched to interview a priest who might have valuable information. The experience must have been both agonizing and terrifying for him, and several of his works from this period sharply condemn spies and informants, even as they display a keen understanding of the weaponized power of language, of the limits of virtue in a culture that values people as instruments or “engines” for the ends they might achieve, and about the lessons that might be drawn from history, both ancient and more recent, for understanding contemporary political affairs.

HENRY S. TURNER | Rutgers University

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

BEN JONSON (1572–1637) was one of the greatest poets and playwrights of the English Renaissance. Born in London and apprenticed to a bricklayer, Jonson by his twenties was making his living as a writer. He wrote numerous plays for the theatre; most of them were satirical comedies, such as Volpone (1606), Epicoene (1609), The Alchemist (1610) and Bartholomew Fair (1616). Set in bustling urban spaces, these dramas skewered the vices and follies of social climbers and those who lacked manners, learning or self-knowledge. Jonson also authored several tragedies set in ancient Rome as well as poems and masques—royal entertainments that honored the monarch, James I, before whom they were performed. Jonson never went to university, but he was exceedingly proud of his learning. In 1616 he published a large and beautiful folio edition of his plays, poems and masques modeled on the great Renaissance editions of classical writers. A contemporary of William Shakespeare, Jonson wrote a dedicatory poem for the much more modest 1623 folio edition of Shakespeare’s works produced seven years after his death by members of his acting company. In this poem, Jonson noted that Shakespeare had “small Latin and less Greek,” but he generously praised his fellow playwright as “the soul of the age/The applause, delight, the wonder of our stage!” In his later years, a fire destroyed Jonson’s library and many of his own manuscripts, and he was weakened by illness. He died a poor man and was buried in Westminster Abbey under a gravestone that simply says: “O rare Ben Jonson.”

–JEAN HOWARD | Columbia University

Tiberius Caesar, The Emperor of Rome
Laila Robins

Agrippina, Widowed Wife of Tiberius’s adopted son; Germanicus
Shirine Babb

Caligula, Son of Germanicus and Agrippina
Cordus, a poet

James Udom

 

Drusus, Tiberius’s son by blood
Macro, an Engine
Matthew Rauch

 

Livia, Wife to Drusus
Laco, a Praetorian Captain
Emily Swallow

 

Silius, a Senator of Rome
Regulus, a Consul of Rome
Keith David

Sabinus, a Senator of Rome
Tamara Tunie

 

Arruntius, a Senator of Rome
Grantham Coleman

 

Sejanus, a Climber
Denis O’Hare

 

Satrius, a Senator of Rome, loyal to Sejanus
Liv Rooth

 

Natta, a Senator of Rome, loyal to Sejanus
Manoel Felciano

 

Eudemus, ‘humble physician to Livia’
Stephen Spinella

 

Varro, a Consul of Rome, Loyal to whomever is strongest
Raphael Nash Thompson

–There will be one 10-minute intermission–

PRODUCTION TEAM

Director & Adaptor | Nathan Winkelstein

Zoom Coordinator | Betsy Ayer

OBS Manager | Jessica Fornear

Producing director | Nathan Winkelstein

General Manager | Sherri Kotimsky

Production Intern | Sarah Preston

Sound Intern | Alexander Markoulis