Tuesday, July 11, 2017

You Caesar, You Brought Her

The Colorado Shakespeare Festival, held every summer at CU Boulder, is now in its 60th year. I haven't made it every season, but I did get to it this time for their staging of Julius Caesar. My sincere hope is that I didn't see the best of their five productions this year, as it left a fair bit to be desired.

Julius Caesar strikes me as one of Shakespeare's more accessible plays for those who think Shakespeare is not for them. It's based on a rather well-known bit of history, one that has been continually reinterpreted. (If you've watched the excellent HBO series Rome, you know the story of Julius Caesar.) The major characters aren't hard to get your head around: Brutus is a conspirator acting of noble intentions to protect government institutions; Cassius is a schemer jealous of Caesar; Mark Antony is the loyal and charismatic man who rallies opposition against the assassins following Caesar's death.

The problem with this production of the play is that none of those three roles is particularly well cast. Each of the three lacks modulation in their performances; they come storming into a scene already at its emotional peak. There's emotion behind everything they say, but it's at such a high and consistent intensity that it somehow becomes monotone. If any is truly connected to the words they're saying, none succeed in conveying that connection to the audience. Brutus does not come off conflicted, Cassius does not come off as devious, and Antony does not come off as charismatic.

That's not to say this production is without merit -- it's just that you have to look deeper into the cast to find it. The performers with less to do are the ones who really shine. Robert Sicular makes an appropriately brash and headstrong Caesar. Anne Penner does wonderfully as Portia, the wife of Brutus. And Casey Andree makes a compelling character of Casca, one of the secondary conspirators, finding the only comic relief in the show.

There's a lot of effective staging from director Anthony Powell. Several key moments occur out among the crowd. The assassination itself takes place atop three steps, so that we can watch the blood trickle down over the following minutes. There's strong lighting design too, once the sun goes down on this outdoor production enough that you can appreciate it. The overall feeling is sullen and moody, with unexpected swatches of color sometimes reflecting on the metal set.

But overall, I think a Shakespeare production in which the three most important roles all miss isn't one worth seeing. I'd give this Julius Caesar a C. I remain fond of the play itself, but I'd encourage those of you thinking about attending the Colorado Shakespeare Festival to look into one of their other offerings this season.

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