Regional Reviews: Connecticut and the Berkshires
Regional Reviews by Fred Sokol
Also see Fred's review of A Midsummer Night's Dream
Packer's Caesar (each with a different composition of actors) was seen this past spring at Shakespeare Festivals in Orlando, Florida and Prague, Czech Republic. Two performers have been constants: Jason Asprey, whose primary role is Cassius, and Nigel Gore as Julius Caesar. They are joined in Lenox by Andrew Borthwick-Leslie as Casca and others; Mat Leonard, who is Octavius Caesar and many more; Eric Tucker's Brutus; James Udom playing Marc Antony; and Kristin Wold, the only woman of the group, as both Calpurnia, Caesar's wife, and Portia, Brutus' wife. Additionally, Wold shifts to Brutus' servant, Lucius.
The format allows Shakespeare's spoken word the opportunity to flourish. Packer is both a director and interpreter. She replicates the Bard, who evidently used but seven actors when his productions were moving from place to place. The Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre is a small space and it nicely complements Packer's idea/purpose.
Caesar, in 44 B.C., returns from victorious foreign battles to Rome. There is a small movement to crown him king. Yet, conspirators led by Cassius oppose this and Brutus, still close to Caesar, is convinced that Caesar must die. Meanwhile, Caesar, a successful war general, has been advised by a soothsayer to "beware the Ides of March," and his wife recommends that he stay put. Others, however, push him to the Capitol. Brutus stabs Caesar, whose response is "Et tu, Brute." Marc Antony (who seemingly listened to the assassins) now manages to turn tides against the conspirators. By the final curtain, Brutus and Cassius utilize swords to extinguish their own lives. Marc Antony says of Brutus: "This was a man."
Brutus never does see his error in murdering his close friend. It is both politically unwise and morally ambiguous, to say the least. Still, Brutus thinks of himself as both a patriot and honorable human being. Cassius, too, is a complex figure. Ambitious, he feels that if Caesar is no longer, the path to power will be cleared. He is, early on, angry and even raging. Later in the play, Cassius proves to be a friend to Brutus and more open to strategy.
Caesar is killed before intermission in Packer's production. While he is fulcrum to the action, he is, as Nigel Gore embodies the man, not especially intriguing. He is potent and strong but does not seem to be particularly articulate. When he dies, though, his figurative presence hovers during the entire concluding component.
Packer brings together a collection of skilled actors who perform utilizing red and black tables for a variety of purposes. Set designer Ryan McGettigan furnishes hanging torn netting for a backdrop of sorts. As, for example, Cassius and Brutus speak early on, five others, with their backs to the audience, stand silently behind at the rear of the stage. Victoria Rhoades, movement director, and Packer oftentimes coax the ensemble to move their arms and hands as the action ensues. Britt Sandusky, the sound designer, gives us storms.
Kristin Wold is distinctively versatile as she transitions from wife to wife to servant (and various other roles, too). During the first portion of the play, Andrew Borthwick-Leslie's Casca is given space to speak scornfully about Caesar; later, Casca seems to disappear. James Udom as Marc Antony engages and brings attention to his character. Jason Asprey, in his twentieth season with the company, once again is persuasive and disciplined.
This is a unique Julius Caesar and the significant nod must be directed toward Tina Packer. She knows language and the characters. Her ability to configure actors with, in some cases, ten or eleven roles, is enviable. Just before intermission, many performers simultaneously exult with "Freedom!" Would that this were true.
Julius Caesar continues at the Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre at Shakespeare & Company, in Lenox, Massachusetts through August 30th, 2014. For tickets, visit www.shakespeare.org or call (413) 637-3353.
- Fred Sokol