Not since 1983 has the Virginia Shakespeare Festival produced the historical tragedy, "Julius Caesar." The show is one of Shakespeare's better known works, usually a required reading in high school English classes. Some of the Bard's speeches contained in the work are among the most recognizable, even by those who have never seen the show. Who hasn't heard the "Friends, Romans countrymen, lend me your ears" monologue at least once?
If you ever wondered about the title of the recent movie, "The Fault in Our Stars," the title was inspired by Cassius' words to Brutus, "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings." Shakespeare words have made their way into our culture, many from this very play.
This production has a lot going for it. I was particularly glad to see that director Christopher Owens decided to just let Shakespeare's original intent and time frame drive the show. It is presented as it was written by the Bard and smacks of relevance even in its setting of 44 BC. He handled the colossal nature of this piece extremely well, keeping it tight despite it's sprawling nature.
As in "Illyria," J. David Blatt's scene design served the locales with imagination and utility. Patricia Wesp pulled another winning costume design out of her bag of theatrical tricks, and made this production a stunning visual spectacle.
The show is really about power, who has it, who wants it—and what people are willing to do to get it. Although the title is "Julius Caesar," it is really more of the story of those around the Roman dictator and the machinations that lead to his assassination and the subsequent events.
It is a long play. Not the longest Shakespeare has written, but the first act does last more than 90 minutes. So be ready for that.
The group of conspirators, led by Bryan Austin as Cassius and Karl Kippola as Brutus was the codifying force behind the action. Their scenes clearly defined the motivations behind their characters as they set out to destroy Caesar, who was played very nicely by veteran performer Ed Whitacre. I thought the death scene was handled very effectively, however, I was a bit bothered by the color of Caesar's blood.
In my opinion, the strongest performance of this production belonged to Tre Cotten as Marc Antony. I was mesmerized by his work, and thought that his acting following the death of Caesar was remarkable. His monologues and dialogue with the citizens after the assassination crackled with intensity. He can be proud of giving these famous and oft-quoted words new life.
The show has many people that contributed to its success. As always Tamara Johnson gave her all as Caesar's wife Calpurnia, who begged her husband to stay at home, (we know how that turned out), and I was quite impressed with the short but profound work of Beth Litwak as Portia.
The opening night audience wasn't huge, but awarded this cast with huge praise befitting their efforts. The show runs through July 20.