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Director Danielle Irvine had no shortage of real-world inspiration on which to draw for Perchance Theatre’s production of “Julius Caesar,” which opened July 27.
In an era dominated by “fake news” and social media, it’s easy to forget that political conspiracy and upheaval have been influenced by fear and rumour for thousands of years.
Irvine forgoes the common practice of many directors to adapt Shakespeare’s plays using modern settings or costumes. Her decision to transport us to Rome in 44 BC, represented by faux-stone emblems mounted on the stage, draperies, togas, swords and shields, has the effect of underscoring how the needs and desires of the general public have been manipulated by political leaders for millennia.
Steve O’Connell’s Brutus is well loved by the Romans and is an impressive speaker who implores the people to be patient and to understand that Caesar (Owen Van Houten) would have become a tyrannical leader. He cannot, however, compete with Mark Antony (Paul Wilson), who sways public opinion against the conspirators by praising Caesar’s good works and generosity.
Brutus presents a logical argument, while Antony plays on the public’s emotion, growing anti-elitism and the promise of future wealth for all people.
Sound familiar? Two thousand years after the real-world events on which this play is based, we still grapple with matters of political corruption, economic disparity and violence.
This is also a play about relationships and loyalty. Caesar and Antony versus Brutus and Cassius (Bridget Wareham), Caesar versus the Senate, and everyone vying for the support of the Roman people.
Wareham delivers a powerful Cassius. She is commanding, convincing and absolutely staunch in her commitment to persuade Brutus to her cause. Her delivery of the longest uninterrupted monologue in the play is outstanding.
Anyone familiar with O’Connell’s past performances knows that he has an imposing presence on the stage. These two together are an irresistible force, such that it occasionally feels imbalanced with other relationships in the play, which do not come across as strongly. Wareham and O’Connell instil palpable empathy and pity in the audience as they struggle with their desperation to protect Rome and their loyalty to each other and to Caesar.
That being said, Wilson delivers an Antony whose loyalty to Caesar is admirable and whose speaking skills cast doubt on how strongly Julius Caesar’s ambitions actually run. We never witness Caesar do or say anything that outright implicates him as a potential tyrant, and there is just enough doubt left in viewers’ minds that it becomes impossible to choose a “right” side. We are left to base our judgments, as the characters do, on rhetoric. The play raises questions about justice, truth and the distribution of power that are unsettling in their relevance to our current world.
“Julius Caesar” finished its opening with an enthusiastic standing ovation from the full house.
“Julius Caesar” continues until Sept. 1 at Perchance Theatre in Cupids. For more information, visit www.perchancetheatre.com or phone 1-709-771-2930.