By William Shakespeare
Directed by Tina Packer
Starring Nigel Gore, Paul Bernardo, and Jason Asprey
Orlando Shakespeare Theatre, Orlando FL
Pretend a new president sweeps into power. Somehow he’s completely destroyed Al-Qaeda, erased the national debt, and passed out a C-note to everyone, just because. The rabble wants to make him king but you don’t. Do you assassinate him preemptively, or do you trust The System to control the situation? John Wilkes Boothe tried the first option and failed, and Lincoln wasn’t even that popular at the time. The same situation presents itself to Cassius (Asprey). He’s not alone, after an easy conversation with Brutus (Bernardo) he’s managing a full-fledged conspiracy. Caesar (Gore) is trusting and confidant, and why not? The Senate keeps offering him the crown, and he keeps refusing it disingenuously, and more importantly he ignores the prophetic advice of a random street soothsayer. What could possibly go wrong? Caesar’s body isn’t even cold by intermission, and the second act is cloudier, with Brutus and conspirators now fighting a civil war with Caesar’s ghost as their tactical advisor. This IS a tragedy, and soon bodies are dropping, like…well, dead bodies in a Shakespearean tragedy.
It’s nearly impossible to not interact with this play; I first read it in sophomore English class. Thus, the question raised here is not what the story is, but how is it represented an on stage. Directors Packer takes a minimalist and highly stylized approach: with only seven actors doubling is handled with minimal costume changes done on stage. This allows the acting to stand out, it’s powerful and compelling. The first act is highlighted by Jim Ireland’s Casca, he’s blackly humorous, filling in back story with the intonations of a Jewish alte kaker. While Esau Pritchard as Antony’s “Friends, Romans, Countrymen” speech shined, his powerful physical presence came into its own in the second act emphasized by tactical lighting that left his words swirling in the air like venomous demons. Bernardo’s Brutus was surprisingly urbane, his high ideals were well intended, but he lets his political savvy slip and it costs him everything. Anne Hering supplies all the female roles, as Calpurnia she’s the only sane voice in Caesar’s life, but she’s easily dismissed by Casca as a mere woman. The sword play was nicely done, as were the numerous suicides under the guidance of Bill Warriner.
You’ve seen it before, and you’ll see it again, but this is a tight and elegant approach to one of Shakespeare’s most accessible stories. There’s old school modernism and more up to date modernisms, no actual blood appears yet the deaths are still striking and seemingly wasteful of human talent. The set (courtesy of Ryan McGettigan) is a few risers and some very cool ruined brickwork, unused actors stand up stage in little bays of red light and frayed XX, three steps and two risers are all we need to take us back to ancient Rome.
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