Regional Theater Review: JULIUS CAESAR (New Theatre at Oregon Shakespeare Festival)

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by Tony Frankel on September 12, 2011

in Theater-Regional

GREAT CAESAR’S GHOST

As directors continue to re-invent theatre, especially the classics, there is a bent to color-blind and gender-bending casting. The mixed-color cast on hand exemplifies just how powerful this mechanism can be: the story of a small group of people who take government into their own hands via assassination becomes a universal examination of a world-wide need for leaders – as well as a warning to those who believe the removal of a feared leader will only bring about positive change. This modern take brings to mind the current mid-East revolutions that topple regimes with no government to put in its place – an occasion that often propagates anarchy more than peace.

Julius Caesar - New Theatre at Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland – regional theater review by Tony Frankel

Julius Caesar - New Theatre at Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland – regional theater review by Tony FrankelAlthough this production is thrilling, the decision to cast a woman as Caesar is a head-scratcher. Through no fault of actress Vilma Silva, it is simply not enough to exchange pants for gown and think you are making a statement. The sex change added nothing and there was no apparent reason behind this choice; in fact, it is somewhat distracting. If Caesar is a woman, why was the character of Caesar’s wife, Calpurnia, removed from the play? Could the wife not be cast as a man? Or, better yet, make Caesar a lesbian – now there’s a threatening motivation! The lines of the wife were almost arbitrarily given to Mark Antony; as long as dramaturg Lue Morgan Douthit is editing Shakespeare, it’s a shame that there was no way to Julius Caesar - New Theatre at Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland – regional theater review by Tony Frankelincorporate that Caesar’s power as a woman was one of the driving forces behind the assassination.

Still, this exquisitely-staged, sharp-paced, and fiery outing is supported by a ferocious cast: Gregory Linington brings a combination of impatience and ardor to Cassius, the chief schemer against Caesar; The famous speech in which Mark Antony placates the assassins while manipulating the Roman populace is a revelation as played by Danforth Comins; and Ako is most memorable as a desperate Soothsayer (she also speaks her lines as a rebel in Japanese!). Some of Ms. Silva’s most fascinating moments are when she haunts the later scenes as Caesar’s ghost – director Amanda Dehnert has the ghost appear in more scenes than Shakespeare’s text, and Ms. Silva’s steely-eyed stares and glares almost give us permission to judge the conspirators as well.

Julius Caesar - New Theatre at Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland – regional theater review by Tony Frankel

Dehnert has unleashed the dogs of war in this breathtaking production — it yaps, bays and howls with excitement, and although the revolution of gender-bending casting can only be chalked up to diversity, the diversity of this cast sheds light on the origins of revolution.

Julius Caesar - New Theatre at Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland – regional theater review by Tony Frankelphotos by Jenny Graham

Julius Caesar
New Theatre
Oregon Shakespeare Festival
Ashland, Oregon
ends on November 6, 2011
for tickets, call 800.219.8161 or visit OSF

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