Julius Ceasar at Shakespeare & Company

Tina Packer Directs Seven Actors in Forty Roles

By: - Jul 31, 2014

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Julius Caesar
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Tina Packer
Set Designer, Ryan McGettigan
Costume Designer, Kristina Tollefson
Fight Director, Douglas Seldin
Lighting Designer, Matthew Miller
Sound Designer,Britt Sandusky
Movement Director, Victoria Rhoades
Stage Manager, Fran Rubenstein
Cast: Jason Asprey (Cassius), Andrew Borthwick-Leslie (Casca), Dennis Krausnick (Julius Caesar),
Mat Leonard (Octavius Caesar), Eric Tucker (Brutus), James Udom (Marc Antony), Kristin Wold (Calpurnia,
Lucius and Portia).
The Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre
Shakespeare & Co.
June 27 – August 30, 2014

Julius Caesar is a play for our times – powerful men, their wives, war, politics and violence. Shakespeare's great tragedy remains relevant  with action, passion, philosophy, thinking men, wise women and chaos all around.

Tina Packer’s Director's Note on Julius Caesar states these are the prevailing ideas in the play: “ The idealism of honor, what it means to be Roman, how to be driven by reason and not passion, and always knowing that you are in the hands of God.” She decided to “depict the moment Rome stopped becoming a Republic and started evolving into an Empire.”

The production features cast of seven, playing 40 roles.

Instead of being confusing, this tiny cast delivers a powerful performance. Packer got the idea of seven actors from Shakespeare himself, who used that number of actors when he took his plays on tour. Combined with the small space of the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre, the action of the play resonates with the passion of the characters and Roman crowds.

The play opens in 44 BC. Rome has not had a King since Tarquin in 509 BC, and Julius Caesar may become King. He has defeated Pompey, a popular Roman general, and has been crowned in many countries he has defeated beyond Rome. Caesar’s friend Brutus, whose ancestors were instrumental in de-throning Tarquin, is a senator and republican. He is concerned that Caesar may become King.

Another senator, Cassius, approaches Brutus about Caesar's "ambitions." Brutus resolves to prevent it. He decides Caesar must die. Jason Asprey as Cassius, is powerful, letting you see the hungry ambition underlying his motives. His is one of the strongest performances in this play. Brutus, played by Eric Tucker, is a villain who sees his murder of his good friend, Julius Caesar, as a necessity for the greater good. He appears as a man who puts the complexities of his deed into a compartment, not recognizing its consequences until the final scenes.

Kristin Wold plays Calpurnia, Caesar’s wife; Portia, Brutus’ wife; and Lucius, the manservant of Brutus; as well as playing five other men. She is superb in these diverse roles. Switching quickly from one to the other, she exudes love and passion for Brutus and for Caesar, and displays wisdom and caring. As Lucius, Wold is excellent as the sleepy aide to Brutus, who ultimately is the only one who will give him his wish.

Another highlight of this production is that of Jason Udom playing Marc Antony, giving his funeral oration for Julius Caesar. His grief is palpable, and his presentation, slow and building to a pitch. Dennis Krausnick is haunting as Julius Caesar, when he says that famous line, “Et tu, Brute.”

The momentum all seven actors create on stage, moving about, roaming in the audience, creates the feeling of a crowd with the audience as part of it. You can feel the chaos grow after Caesar’s death. There confusion and striving for power. The bare scenic design of Ryan McGettigan, with its red tables serves the story well. The costumes by Kristina Tollesfson conveyed the Roman togas and their portability moved the scenes along. Britt Sandusky’s storm sounds highlighted an evening of decisions.

As Rome devolves into civil war, the losers choose to die honorably, while the victors begin a new struggle for power.