Madrid-St.-Angelo and cast. Photo by Michael Brosilow.
Review: JULIUS CAESAR at Writers Theatre
By Hilary Holbrook
I have this visceral reaction when a politician I did not vote for is elected, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this. I am certain that the world will come to an end. The rivers will rise. Fire will reign down from the Heavens, and the plagues of Egypt will wreak havoc once more. The weight of disappointment can certainly feel as though the Gods are playing some cruel joke on us mere mortals, and the desire to “take back the reigns” on the current events in one’s life can be very strong. This is why Writers Theatre’s production of JULIUS CAESAR is so important. These days we can all use the reminder that the road to hell, even for the most honorable of men, is paved with good intentions.
Directed and adapted by Michael Halberstam and Scott Parkinson, the fast paced, 105 minute play is the most clear and cohesive adaptation that I have seen. As directors, they do an excellent job of showcasing the perils of mob mentality, the all-consuming pride one can feel when there is a cause greater than oneself, and the all out chaos of war. Most importantly, this production did an excellent job of showcasing the humanity of each of these men. None were power hungry prowlers. All were honorable men who wholeheartedly believed their cause to be right, just, and benefitting the good of the many. The clearest, and most surprising, example of this comes from Parkinson’s Cassius. I had always perceived Cassius to be somewhat of a weasel; the devil on Brutus’ shoulder that just wants revenge against a Caesar who distrusts him. Parkinson proved me wrong. His Cassius is desperate to be taken seriously, keenly aware of the choices he has made, and sees the inevitable end of those choices well before anyone else. Say what you will about Cassius, but, in this production, I ended up feeling sorry for him. Thomas Vincent Kelly’s Marc Antony had some surprising moments as well. At first, I was not quite sure that the stoic soldier fully understood the gravity of the events unfolding before him, but, like a well-trained combatant, he was simply biding his time until all the players could be met on Antony’s chosen, and preferred, stage; the battlefield. That character progression was rather enjoyable to watch. Madrid St. Angelo also did a wonderful job of balancing Caesar’s pride, care for his subjects, and love of his countrymen around him (mainly, Brutus). The whole pace of the show centers around people who have a noble cause to fight for, but the stakes for Brutus and Caesar were brought down through the portrayals of Portia and Calphurnia.
Like virtually all of Shakespeare’s women, Portia (Arya Daire) and Calphurnia (Christine Bunuan) do not have easy lives, but, in their conversations with their husbands, I think it is imperative that neither give in to hysterics. The cause for which each member of Caesar’s senate is fighting for is just as honorable and noble as Portia and Calphurnia fighting for the lives of their husbands. Brutus respects what Portia has to say, and the same is true of Caesar and Calphurnia, but if either woman begins to hysterically sob, then they both lose the opportunity to show the validity of their concerns, and instead, simply look like a hysterical woman in need of rest. To be clear, any woman would rightly break down sobbing at what Portia and Calphurnia have to face, but, in order to get through to Brutus and Caesar, they each have to be very specific in how they communicate.
All of the production elements were spot on in this show! Breon Arzell’s movement direction was enveloping and pleasing to the eye, and the combination of Courtney O’Neill’s set and Mike Tutaj’s projections did an excellent job of paying homage to the original world of Shakespeare’s play while throwing in some modern elements to ground today’s audience. The cherry on this production sundae was the original music and sound design from Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen. Everything helped to draw me into this world, and I was sitting on the edge of my seat for the majority of the show.
This show will sit with me for awhile, and I highly encourage everyone to go see it. The production elements will excite you. The actors will appeal to all your emotions, and you’ll be left with the strange feeling that, what you see on stage seems eerily familiar.