by T.E. Klunzinger
Full disclosure: some years ago this reviewer played the eponymous Roman, in a production which was rained on for five of the eight performances. I was later informed by friends who attended under extended beach towels that they pretty much ignored Mark Antony due to concern for my person as I lay glassy-eyed and open-mouthed in the rain. (Spoiler alert!: Caesar dies at the end of the First act so I never got to experience the Second.)
This is a much drier production, presented indoors in modern dress at Sycamore Creek Church by The Curtainless Theatre, featuring 19 actors in 40-some roles and smartly directed by Dale Wayne Williams. (Mr. Williams pops up in many Messenger roles, acquitting himself well enough that you tend to wish he’d done other roles as well.)
The play itself has been done countless times since 1599, due no doubt to its eloquent ruminations on dictatorship and democracy, and the lack of a specific villain. Productions in recent times have often attempted allegories with current politics, such as the controversial 2017 New York version which appeared to advocate for the assassination of President Trump.
Such commotion ignores the fact that the play really isn’t about Mr. Caesar; rather, the protagonist is Brutus, who likes Caesar but makes the conflicted decision to help kill him to preserve the democracy of the Roman Republic. That doesn’t work out and the conspirators (with some collateral damage) all meet unfortunate ends, which is why this is a tragedy.
Kameron Going is excellent as the brooding Brutus, projecting intensity and introspection with equal effectiveness. This production is worth seeing for his performance alone.
Steve Ledyard, Sarah Murphy, Mark Polzin, Mike Shalley, Jessica Short and Kris Vitols all manage to quickly delineate many of the minor roles that can be the bane of smaller Shakespeare shows. Other actors seemed less familiar with the Shakespeare idiom.
It has become standard in this century for many shows, particularly Shakespeare, to feature gender-fluid casting in which various traditionally-male roles are performed by women, often for the very good reason that enough men aren’t available. (Of course 400 years ago, men played the women’s roles too.)
That’s the case here as well, which causes occasional confusion when a female actor who has just appeared in a female role, then appears in a male role with no change of costume or other visual cue. (Yes it’s in the dialogue, but still….)
And this causes a particular problem with Mark Antony, played by the otherwise-excellent Ellie Weise: at several points Antony and Brutus are facing off at each other, and for the viewer, the visual dynamics between a man challenging a woman versus a man challenging a man are simply different.
Light and sound design by Cody Skalmowski (who would sprint on during a scene to do a role, then back to run tech) were spare but effective, as were the many scene changes.
As the GLUT Lady has often noted, not everyone likes Shakespeare; but if you’re so inclined, Julius Caesar will perform this Friday and Saturday at 7 pm, Sunday at 2 pm, at Sycamore Creek Church, on South Pennsylvania at Mount Hope.