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Review of Julius Caesar at the Trinity Shakespeare Festival
Trinity Shakespaere's Julius Caesar
Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, in spite of its ongoing popularity among scholars and critics, is not commonly performed on the stage. The Trinity Shakespeare Festival's 2013 season offers a splendid production of Julius Caesar that does this dramatic masterpiece full justice. The cast, lighting, and set design are superb.
This play is performed in the Hays Theater at TCU. The thrust stage of the Hays theater helps put the audience right in the middle of the action, a necessity for this play since the audience must be involved for the many crowd scenes in the play to have their full effect. For performance dates and detailed information, see my links below.
Tickets and Performance Dates
- Trinity Shakespeare Festival - Julius Caesar - 2013
Trinity Shakespeare's website which includes links to the Box Office and detailed performance dates.
Artistic Director Stephen Fried has assembled a stellar cast of local actors, many of them veterans of other Shakespeare productions. For any play, a great cast is a boon, for Julius Caesar, it is a necessity. Of all Shakespeare's tragedies, this play comes closest to being an ensemble piece, requiring strong dramatic actors for even its minor roles.David Coffee, a much loved member of the Trinity Shakespeare Festival from its inception,is perfectly cast as Julius Caesar. Although already well-known to friends of the Festival (such as myself) as a skilled comic actor, Coffee brings the role of Caesar the gravitas and tragedy that it deserves. His Caesar is proud and susceptible to flattery, but underneath the pompous exterior, Coffee endows the famed conqueror with a vulnerability that gives the role true pathos. With Caesar dead before the end of Act III, however, the play's focus clearly rests on the shoulders of Brutus and Cassius. Richard Haratine, as Brutus, is a brooding but sympathetic figure. Through Haratine's performance, we see the inner torment of Brutus as he struggles to reconcile his principles with his life. Jenny Ledel makes a wonderful Portia, showing us a woman who is at once strong and vulnerable. The role of Portia is a small one but Ledel succeeds in making Portia's scenes major highlights in the play's opening half. Perhaps the greatest treat the play will hold in store for audiences is Steven Pounders's Cassius who very nearly steals the show. Pounders plays off Haratine's Brutus incredibly well and between the two of them, they make the play's final act, which often tends to get bogged down, as engaging as the first. Pounders embodies the "lean and hungry look" Caesar ascribes to Cassius, and his small stature plays well against the larger (but more vulnerable looking) Haratine. In the play's final act, Pounders invokes sympathy for Cassius, no easy feat, and his death scene leads us to wonder whether this might just be the tragedy of Cassius. Finally, Alex Organ does an excellent job as Anthony. Organ, who played Coriolanus in a rare and wonderful production of the play by Shakespeare Dallas last year, brings out the emotional side of Anthony and performs the famous "cry havoc" and funeral speeches so well, we almost forget we have heard them before.
The Set, Cosutmes, and Special Effects
The lighting and set design of Julius Caesar effectively communicate changes in time and place, taking us from a rain-soaked street in Rome, to the steps of the capitol, to a battlefield in Greece. The stage is backed by a wall featuring carven figures of soldiers and horses (simulating Pompey's statue that forms the background for Caesar's death). This wall splits to reveal stairs leading up. Later, these stairs are raised to create a mist-filled tunnel. All these effects are impressive and artistic director T. J. Walsh makes good use of them to create the mood for the play. The assembly of Brutus' war tent is particularly impressive, drawing the audience quite literally inside the war tent itself and heightening the impact of the intimate discussions between Brutus and Cassius towards the end of the play.The use of fake blood squibs is effective and makes the killings (especially Caesar's) look suitably violent but with 5 onstage deaths audience members can get splattered as they did when I attended the play's opening night. Not to fear, it is washable! In the end, the acting and design of the play are so well done that any temporary stains are a minor drawback and do not in any way detract from the value of the performance The lighting simulates day, night, and also a rather convincing thunderstorm, giving the audience a very clear sense that they are indeed witnessing a "tide in the affairs of men." With a play that is so invested in the ideas of time and its passage, effectively setting the scene is crucial and Trinity Shakespeare does not disappoint. The excellent costumes in the play, including plebians' tunics, patricians' togas, and soldiers' armor help further solidify the changes in time and place with even the principle actors making several costume changes for the same role.
Trinity Shakespeare has done a remarkable job in their production of Julius Caesar that reminds us once again why Shakespeare, when properly performed, still has the same power over audiences that he did 400 years ago. This production also reminds us why Trinity Shakespeare has been called the number one Shakespeare Festival in North Texas.