One reason Shakespeare lives on is that the best of his plays say things about the human experience that are still relevant today. In this production of Julius Caesar at Walden Theatre, the action is placed in a modern-day political context that casts Kyra Riley, an African-American actress, as the title character. If this conjures thoughts of both Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton, it is no accident, and the parallel is made explicit by the Shepard Fairey-like image of her that appears at the top of the play.
Meanwhile, Brutus, Cassius, Casca, and others, are dressed in the sleek, stylish business suits of modern day political operatives. It frames the story as a commentary on contemporary politics that illustrate the elasticity and universality of the play’s themes. Additionally, clever use is made of digital technology, as Caesar receives the famous warning, “Beware the Ides of March” as a Twitter message to her PDA that we see projected on a screen that is positioned as part of the backdrop, and key events including Caesar’s assassination are captured on smartphones operated by characters onstage.
In order to reinforce this focus on the political dimensions of the play, director Alec Volz has dramatically cut the latter parts of the play, so that the armed conflict that result in the aftermath of Caesar’s death are condensed down to a few swift scenes. Although drastic, the protracted machinations of warfare are not really missed. In fact, the very remoteness of the military action could even be taken as a further parallel to the modern day relationship of U.S citizens to the conflicts their own armed forces have most recently been engaged in.
The cast executes the material with authority, and Hank Paradis as Mark Antony, DJ Nash as Brutus, Katie Scott as Cassius, and Kyra Riley as Julius Caesar were standouts. Chris Lockhart brought nice “Dixie” flavor to his Decius, and Courtney Doyle was measured and grave as Calphurnia, Caesar’s wife. Interestingly, the idea of the title character being in a same-sex relationship is handled in such matter-of-fact fashion that it hardly registers among all the political intrigue portrayed onstage.
When Marc Antony steps up to microphone to deliver the famous funeral oration for the slain leader, the connection to the image of modern day politicians is complete. I half expected to see a teleprompter, forgetting for the moment that the speech is notable for being extemporaneous, but the concept of populist rhetoric leading the public like a carrot on a stick is deeply resonant with current events, as Walden Theatre does once again something it has done so very often: find relevance to contemporary experience in the classics.
January 19-21 and 26-28 @ 7:30 January 21, 28 @ 2:00pm
Tim & Dair Mathistad
Katie & Chris Haulter
Kathy Todd Chaney
Angie Reed Garner