Chicago Shakespeare’s JULIUS CAESAR Is A Man For All Seasons
All mighty Ceasar has certainly come a long way from his Roman abode. As the centuries turn, William Shakespeare’s master work about politics, betrayal, corruption, greed, love and murder only seem to get more relevant and timely. So much so that the actual reign of Caesar in the time proper becomes more and more irrelevant to newer directors who want to put their own stamp on the work. To note, of late there was an exquisite production at Stratford-upon-Avon which in which the action took place in Apartheid Africa which proves that the universality of the underlying material can be cut and pasted into most any time and space.
Director Jonathan Munby’s vision of Julius Caesar is now on display at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, and for those that thought they knew this work inside and out or for those who are novices at the genre, this production is a revelation. Though his Ceasar seems to exist in our current socio-political world of Political Action Committees, Instagram and street cameras that mark our every move, the heart of the drama still elicits ancient Rome where marble columns abound and the citizens were are fickle as the leaders that ruled over them. For this is an Everyman’s production of Julius Ceasar in every way, shape and form. Any subtlety that lay in Shakespeare’s language is abolished here and what we get are character’s who know who they are, what they want and how to accomplish it.
What is gone in subtlety is gained in a more complex character study and the actors that Mr. Munby has assembled get new meaning out some the Bard’s most well known lines. First and foremost is the incomparable Larry Yando who makes his supporting character Casca into a integral lead. As Caesar, David Darlow exudes a powerful yet compassionate air which makes the Romans’ love for him all the more believable. Dion Johnstone makes for a very polished Marc Anthony who uses his wit and cunning to manipulate the crowd against Caesar’s assassins while John Light commands every scene he is in as Marcus Brutus.
This modern Julius Casear moves quickly but not always sure-footedly. The second act, which unfolds like a pseudo Arab Spring, is not as solid or polished as the first mainly because much of the meaning is undermined by overused special effects and sound amplification. Which brings us to an issue that seems to plague directors who modernize the setting of these works. If you are going to use guns, then use them authentically in the story all the way through. The realism of a current day Julius Caesar protected by the Secret Service with the appropriate arsenal is make superfluous when the director decides to have Caesar killed by daggers. Same with the other lead characters’ suicides by knife. Wouldn’t it be more truthful to the story to follow through and use a gun for the killings? Of course it would. And if done correctly, it would not impede on the language of play.
That is a minor quibble in an otherside flawless production which proves that the art of the possible is as alive now as it was when the actual Caesar discovered that old adage, keep your friends close but your enemies closer.
Julius Caesar runs through March 24, 2013 at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, 800 East Grand Avenue on Navy Pier. For tickets or more information call the box office at (312) 595-5600 or visit ChicagoShakes.com For calendar information, please visit www.TheatreinChicago.com