by Mia Carlin
The political thriller Julius X is the brainchild of playwright and national renowned slam poet Al Letson.
Four centuries ago Shakespeare penned Julius Caesar, four decades ago Malcolm X made his mark but there is still no escaping the immediacy of Letson’s Julius X; a conglomeration between 16th century Julius Caesar and 1960’s Malcolm X.
Leston first read the autobiography of Malcolm X at the age of 15 and it profoundly changed the way he looked at the world. Being a student struggling with dyslexia, Letson was taken by surprise when he was picked to read a monologue from Julius Caesar and it made perfect sense to him. Letson describes the experience as words jumping out from the page and the experience was like reading his native tongue for the first time.
To Letson, it seemed like a natural progression that Julius Caesar and Malcolm X would meet in the crossroads of his mind.
Although Letson received a grant from the Community Foundation to write the play, he was skeptical that it would see the light of day in Jacksonville. Being primarily a conservative city, Letson wondered if he could even do a big African American play in Jacksonville. Letson asked himself, "Where would you get the actors? What theatre would put it up? Is there an audience for this type of work?" Luckily director Barbara Colaciello Williams, Joe Schwarz and Players by the Sea came to his aid.
Julius X is a careful marrying of the two stories and taken some of the prominent dialogue and mixed them together. For instance, In Shakespeare’s play, Julius Caesar tells his wife Calpurnia "Cowards die many times before their deaths, the valiant never taste of death but once." Malcolm X knew this. "The price of freedom is death", he would say. Malcolm told his wife Betty Shabazz, "Don’t be bitter. Remember Lot’s wife when they kill me, and surely they will. You have to use all of your energy to do what it is you have to do."
Performed in the midst of Black History month, Julius X delves into what Malcolm X gave his life for; examining his beliefs and actions as well has bringing Julius Caesar’s characters to life again. The names and characters are from Julius Caesar but the motif and look of costume and set design predominately replicates the Malcolm X era of the 1960’s.
The controversy begins when Julius X (Freddy Tripp) comes back from Mecca leading up to his press conferences back in the U.S. Brutus (Larry knight), Julius X’s best friend winds up betraying him with the influence of Cassius (David Girard) because they believe that Harlem is living in degradation by the white man and Julius X is sinking them further.
Brutus, Cassius and Julius X all grew up together as equals in Harlem. Julius X, like the others, used to be a hustler, pimp, thief etc. and along his journey as an adult he became enlightened to a certain degree to that he went to Mecca and joined the nation of Islam, thus following their teachings. When Julius X returned, he had this exalted, higher level of thinking which in a sense made the black people of America feel threatened. They even so much as say "Oh he’s sittin’ over there eatin’ with white folks", which really isn’t the case in Mecca; there is no white, black, Asian, etc – they are all one brotherhood.
Julius comes back to the States and while trying to bring unity & advocate brotherhood he realizes there is still separatism between the races. Although Julius X promotes peace, he understands there are times when he has to be militant and stand up for what’s right; thus the saga of the play begins.
The production of Julius X isn’t so much as musical as it is a poetic interpretation. There’s African Dance, Interpretive Dance, Fighting, song, etc – it’s almost like a spiritual type of requiem; thanks to the choreographic skills of Kellina Chavoustie and DeWitt Cooper.
You get an eerie chill down your spine as you watch the Soothsayers writhe and swarm like snakes in the Interpretive Peace "Beware the Ides of March" and the gospel inspired "I know I’ve been Chained" makes the hair of your neck stand up.
There is also an interesting mesh of Old English and Ebonic dialogue within the same scenes and sometimes even within the same sentences.
A dialect you would rarely see conjugated; actor Freddy Tripp (Julius X) successfully jumps between the two with ease.
Freddy Tripp (Julius X)
Long before wowing us with his impersonation of Julius X, Freddy Tripp was impersonating a man who, unless you’ve lived on the moon for the last thirty years, was the biggest household name in the 1980’s and even today.
Yep, you guessed it – Michael Jackson.
After meeting Joe & La Toya Jackson at the age of 12, Freddy Tripp starting impersonating Michael Jackson and Prince while in a break dancing troupe on the downtown streets of Chicago. After moving to Florida, Freddy honed his craft at Douglas Anderson School of the Arts under the instruction of Dr. Lee Beger.
After graduation, Tripp immediately won the title of Mr. Beauty and the Beach on MTV being crowned "King of the Beach".
Freddy also performed in numerous well known plays including Oliver Twist, West Side Story, Rebel Without a Cause, The Jungle Book, Grease, Jesus Christ Superstar and even played Jesus Christ himself in Jacksonville’s own Passion play.
Delving into film/ T.V with roles of Illegally Yours, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and the Celestine Prophecy, Tripp show’s us that he is no stranger to the camera.
When asked what he did to prepare himself for the role of Julius X, Tripp replied, "I had old footage of Malcolm X, stuff from the internet and of course, Denzel helped out (laughs) – he did an amazing job as Malcolm X. But definitely a lot of speeches – the third scene "tell it like it is" are actual recorded speeches that Malcolm X gave so I studied his voice from those recordings. The writer outlet was a great thing; Al Letson is an awesome writer. He’s a nationally renowned slam poet, he travels all over the country. He just won the NPR award and he’s right here from Jacksonville. Barbara Williams, the director, she was one of Andy Warhol’s right hand man, coordinated some of Andy’s events, so there are a lot of creative people behind this production."
Freddy Tripp stumbled across the opportunity to play Julius X by happenstance.
Working on a construction job for a hotel, a tenant from an antique shop owner overheard Freddy telling a co-worker about his acting antics and approached him about the show.
Freddy recalls, "I went over there (Players by the Sea), rushed in & auditioned and the girl who I auditioned with became my wife in the play; they said we had good chemistry on stage. It was funny because I had this really thick Taliban / Jesus beard and Deltoiya, who played my wife Calpurnia, well; she got around the beard (laughs). She actually caressed my beard; I would’ve gotten grossed out myself but…"
Tripp describes Deltoiya Monique as "being really lively and romantic at heart" and applauds her on her performance as Calpurnia. "She has a romantic personality by nature and had to work on being sterner which she really pulled off. She has really grown as an actress."
The rehearsal process of Julius X was a total of 6 months. Auditioning in late August, the process took a long time because there were three auditions, a month of warm up and word tossing exercises, individual monologue rehearsals and weekend dance and crowd scene rehearsals.
After the production of Julius X has run its course, Tripp plans on delving head first into the world of independent film. He is to star and direct in the indie film "The Gender Wars"; a futuristic comedy where women run the world and are hungry for "real" men, rather than their metro-sexual girly boy counterparts.
Tripp is also doing a film called "The Rescue" which is set in the 1800’s. His character is black, white and Native American in a time which starts in the Indian Suffrage and ends in the African American Suffrage.
Also noted is the film short which is currently untitled, but is in comparison to "the Kingdom" with Jamie Fox. Basically the Marines go into the Middle East like Black Ops; the highest level of Special Forces.
In this film, Freddy delights in the fact that he has a beard and a camel.
Freddy explains, "If I’m not in front of the camera, I’m behind it. I’m there all of the time. If Jacksonville has some sort of piss ant project or big one, I’m on top of it."
Freddy’s "day job" consists of being a freelance photo artist for musicians, bands and models. But unless you are Freddy’s Mamma, significant other or best friend, don’t expect a discount – this guy doesn’t believe in free handouts; and why should he?
We all gotta make money somehow.
Freddy Tripp is a talented multi-faceted actor who has a catalog of many artistic talents.
Being the son of actor/ artist Fred and costume designer/visual artist Gina, Freddy is used to being the in the spotlight.
Being the Jack of all Trades when it comes to this biz, Freddy effortlessly succeeds in many facets of the entertainment industry.
Actor, Singer, Dancer, Photo Artist, Visual Artist, Casting Coordinator, Stuntman, and Avante Guard Fashion Designer (yes Freddy actually designs, sews and makes his own fashion designs as well as hand selects the models for his shows), Freddy Tripp is one creative machine who just keeps on running.
From Michael Jackson, to King of the Beach to Julius X – no matter what his star role leads him to, Freddy Tripp know he’s always going somewhere.
With a stellar cast, interesting set design, focused direction, beautiful song and dance, and of course, a well written storyline; Julius X is a must see for the season.
For the history of times, the style of the creation and the romanticism of old Shakespearean Literature this is one production you don’t want to miss.
JULIUS X SHOWTIMES:
Players By the Sea
106 Sixth Street North Jacksonville Beach, FL 32250
(904) 249-0289 - Information & Reservations
$18 General Admission
$15 for Seniors and Students