Saturday, October 09, 2004

Julius Caesar (Great Lakes Theatre Festival)

'JULIUS CAESAR' reigns at Great Lakes Theatre Festival

‘JULIUS CAESAR,’ now running at the Great Lakes Theatre Festival, deals with corrupt governments, one’s conscience, doing what will be good for everyone rather than thinking about one’s self, and the ability to change the populace’s minds. It also reaches into the area of grandness and becoming too ambitious.

The plot centers on Julius Caesar, who, after another of his successful battles, is encouraged by a worshiping crowd to become emperor. He refuses, though a number of Rome’s senators think he, in truth, wants to become the dictator. A group of conspirators, including Caesar’s friend Brutus, plot to murder him. Following the murder, Brutus ill-advisedly lets Mark Anthony give a funeral oration. With his “friends, Roman, countrymen” speech, Anthony stirs up the people and civil war ensues. Brutus commits suicide after it is apparent that his SIDE has lost. Still eloquent, Anthony delivers Brutus' funeral oration, calling him the noblest Roman of them all. This is the stuff of which Freshman English classes is made.

The play’s the thing, but, in reality, few people realize the effect of Shakespeare on our modern day perceptions. Yes, many of the Bard’s lines are quoted, many of his poems are memorized by unwilling teens, but the lasting effect of Shakespeare’s words are often ignored.

One of the major places where this picture of “what was” and “what you should believe” is displayed is in the Bard’s ‘JULIUS CAESAR.’ As one theorist states, “The play captures with remarkable fidelity the ethos and rhetorical style of late-republican Rome--so much so, indeed, that it may be said that Shakespeare's portraits of Caesar and his contemporaries have largely formed our impressions of how the ancient Romans thought and talked and conducted their civic affairs. Recent studies of the play's references to philosophy indicate, moreover, that Shakespeare knew a good deal about Roman Stoicism and perceived it as one of the characterizing traits that separate people, the rigid, from the flexible.

Interestingly, the concept of stoicism is one of key factors in our present-day Presidential election. A number of scholars have confirmed the validity of writer and critic Mark Van Doren's early century perception that in his portrayal of Brutus Shakespeare was drawing on a widely held tradition that regarded Stoicism as a philosophy that rendered its adherents so assured of their own virtue as to be largely incapable of recognizing or repenting of their faults. Hmm...sounds like a line right out of one of the present day Presidential candidate’s attacks on the other.

The GLTF production is excellent. The concept is well conceived by director Risa Brainin. Taking a modern approach, she has used Shakespearean language, but flattened out the tones to make it palatable to the American ear. Using scenic designer Russell Metheny’s modern set, and the contemporary Armani-type clothing styles of Kim Krumm Sorenson, she has given the audience a chance to realize the modern implications of the play.

Richard Klautsch develops an introspective Marcus Brutus with an excellent underplay development. Without raging and ranting, Klautsch clearly shows the inner turmoil that Brutus goes through in making his painful decisions. Douglas Frederick, who portrays a Cassius filled with rage, is also effective. Mark Alan Gordon is excellent as Decius Brutus. Laura Perrotta makes for a fine Portia, wife to Brutus.

On the other hand, Aled Davies is not nearly cunning enough as Julius Caesar. His feigned ambition doesn’t come through. As he did with his Lady Bracknell role in ‘THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST,’ Davies seems to miss the true characterization. Kelly Sullivan is unbelievable as Calphurnia, wife to Caesar. She, for some inexplicable reason, whines her way through the part. And, why David Anthony Smith decided to interpret Marcus Antonius as a fool is not clear.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘JULIUS CAESAR’ is an important Shakespearean play. It takes on additional meaning during this election year. The GLTF production is well worth seeing.