Monday, August 19, 2013

Julius Caesar—Post5 Theatre—NE Portland

“Cry Havoc…”

Shakespeare’s classic, political drama, Julius Caesar, is directed by Ty Boice and presented outdoors in their Lacroute Courtyard Theatre through September 29th at 7:30 pm.  They also have a beer garden which opens at 7 pm.  And bring a chair (or rent one from them) for outdoor seating.  For further information, go to www.postfivetheatre.org

This play is one of the more familiar and oft-done plays of the Bard.  It is also a very good example of why Shakespeare is considered so universal, as the plays often reflect our modern times, as well as human values.  Compare the warring factions in Romeo and Juliet with the gangs of New York in West Side Story.  Or, the battle of the sexes in The Taming of the Shrew with any number of television sit-coms.  Or, Julius Caesar with many of the coups in the Mid-East or South America, or even our own, American Civil War.  In other words, he was a writer for all ages.

Julius Caesar (Michael Streeter) was a dictator, no doubt about that, but a benevolent one.  “And, therein, lies the rub.”  Should a man, however loved by the people, be granted total authority over a country?  If so, what happens to the Republic, or the Senate?  And, as the saying goes, “absolute power corrupts, absolutely.”  Marc Antony (Heath Koerschgen), “…a limb of Caesar,” believes completely in his friend. 

But Cassius (Orion Bradshaw) foresees a way to win power for himself by enacting a military-type coup, claiming that Caesar was ambitious and has to be removed, assassinated.  But Cassius is not himself well-liked and is too volatile and knows he must entrust his brother, Brutus (Paul Angelo), more popular and articulate then he, with the task of inciting the rebels.  Brutus capitulates, but his reasons are more honorable than Cassius’s, as he is truly doing it for Rome, for the people.

After Caesar’s murder, Antony persuades the conspirators to let him speak at his funeral and cleverly manipulates the crowd into turning against the assassins.  And thus “…let slip the dogs of war.”  In the fray, another relation to Caesar, Octavius (Andrew Bray), joins with Antony’s troops to hunt down the rebels and, thus, takes the throne for himself.  Most of the foes are killed, some by their own hand, and control of the country is restored.

It is interesting to note how often the supernatural is invoked in Shakespeare’s plays.  They are teeming with spirits, fairies, witches, omens and in this play, Caesar’s avenging ghost and a soothsayer (Sam Dinkowitz), “beware the ides of March.”  The citizens of Willy’s time seem to have a belief in the afterlife and, dramatically, these were used as effective devices of foreshadowing and to kick the plot forward when conventional means seem to fail.

This production is done effectively on an essentially bare stage and in modern clothes, with masks when needed.  The show does have a fair amount of blood and violence, when called for, and well handled.  Boice certainly understands his subject and propels his cast forward at a break-neck pace.  But he also has taken the time to invest each character and specific moments in the play with humanity and a dose of reality.  Note when Portia (Verónika Núnez) gets really ticked at her husband, Brutus, she lapses into her own Latino, native tongue.  Or when Casca (Ithica Tell) is asked to attend a dinner, she consults her calendar phone, et. al., nice touches.

Angelo gives us a Brutus that is both honorable but vulnerable.  A man you can care for but not necessarily follow.  A somewhat gentler Brutus, which works.  And Koerschgen shows a slyer, more manipulative Antony.  This, too, works.  One you might follow but not necessarily like.  You see what I’m getting at.  No clear villain or hero.  But the acting kudos exploded with Bradshaw’s Cassius.  He is clearly short-tempered, like a bulldog, and only Brutus’s handling of his leash, can keep him from killing everyone in sight.  Orion, as always, enwraps himself in the mantle of the character and is utterly captivating and convincing as the conniving cohort to the confusion.

The only problems arose were technical, as audience members near the speakers got too much volume, and some sitting on the sides claimed they had hard times hearing the actors when they were on the opposite sides of the stage.  Guess one needs to get there early enough to sit in the center sections.  And the attempt at audience participation, while a good idea, seemed only a minimum success.

There is stylized violence in this play, so be warned.  I recommend this production.  If you do choose to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.