By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
Running Time: Approx. 2 hours and 45 minutes with two 10-minute intermissions
It seems that today, politics rule the airwaves and television screens. Something is always happening and no matter what, there are people who are unhappy or vehemently disagree with whatever’s going on. Well, it’s good to see some things never change (of course, I’m being sarcastic) and people have been following and fighting over politics since we were first able to form our own thoughts. Of course, people have been writing about politics and current events for as long as we could write, as well, and Chesapeake Shakespeare Company‘s season opener, William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Directed by Michael Tolaydo, with Set Design by Audrey Bodek, Lighting Design by Michael Lonegro, Sound Design by David Crandall and Costume Design by Kristina Martin, gives us a glimpse into The Great Bard’s view of ancient Roman politics and how they handled things. Certainly one of Shakespeare’s classics, Chesapeake Shakespeare Company has managed to pull this piece into the 21st century and presents it in a way that is easy to follow and enthralling making it one of the best productions of this piece that I’ve seen yet.
Audrey Bodek’s Set Design is minimal but absolutely breath-taking. She uses her space wisely and keeps the to traditional Shakespearean design with the balcony and all that, but her choice of gold coloring to cover this set works well and fits nicely with the piece. Her artistic ability is apparent with the random but beautiful cross-section pattern that make up the railings and coverings that are subtle but make up the perfect background.
Costume Design by Kristina Martin is quite appropriate, and, though fashionable, breezy, and fun, you won’t be seeing any togas on this stage. All attire is modern business attire or modern casual and all of the actors seem rather comfortable in their wardrobe. Though using a traditional design for a Shakespeare work is all well and fine and, of course, works, it’s nice to see that Martin uses an updated design that is just as effective, if not more effective in bringing a modern day audience to a better understanding of the piece.
Lighting and Sound Design by Michael Lonegro and David Crandall, respectively, work in tandem and create a superb atmosphere throughout the piece. Each scene is lit just about perfectly and each sound is deliberate and spot on. It’s worth noting the storm lighting and sound is some of the best I’ve seen in any production. Both Light and Sound Design blend so well into the production, one doesn’t notice them directly, which is exactly what an audience is supposed to do, but when you notice it… it’s on point and adds an authenticity to the production.
Michael Tolaydo takes the helm of this production of Julius Caesar and he knows exactly what he wants and executes it beautifully. He has a definite comprehension of the text and the way he tells this story is easy to follow even for those who are not familiar with the work of William Shakespeare. The care he took with the modern day theme while staying true to the text is apparent and his casting is top-notch. While a piece like this can be drawn out, the pacing for this piece is spot on as Tolaydo keeps the action moving smoothly, with purpose.
Moving on to the performance of this production, the entire ensemble works well together and each actor seems understands his or her role and how they fit into the piece. With such a large cast (even with folks doubling or tripling roles), it’s a lot to keep track of, but that’s the beauty of it… you don’t have to! Whether a supporting or leading player, each gives 100% effort and dedication making for a quite an entertaining evening of theatre.
Among the many supporting players, Kathryne Daniels, who takes on various roles, including a couple of Senators and a Poet, is a joy to watch because of her versatility and apparent grasp of each contrasting character she plays. This lady knows her stuff and gives us her all.
As Portia, the dutiful but strong willed and intelligent wife of Marcus Brutus, Caitlin Carbone knocks it out of the park with strong, confident performance as does Imani Turner as Lucius, another supporting, but rather important character as personal servant to Marcus Brutus. Turner gives a dedicated performance and gives this character purpose.
Keith Snipes and Mary Coy tackle the roles of Cinna and Casca, respectively, and both actors are great assets to this production. Snipes, with his booming, clear voice and great stage presence gives a pristine performance while Coy, who has a clear understanding of the text and her character, gives a confident, distinct portrayal of a conflicted, but determined conspirator.
Mar Antonia, one of the leading characters and loyal friend to the unfortunate Julius Caesar, is portrayed by Briana Manete and she gives a stellar performance of this sly, clever character. Manete plays this character as the one you love to hate. The character is full of pure politics and plays all the angles she needs to accomplish her goals and Manete plays the role with a snarky quality that takes her performance to the hilt. She comfortable and confident, making her a definite highlight in this production.
Rounding out this remarkable cast Michael P. Sullivan as Julius Caesar, Vince Eisenson as Caius Cassius, and Ron Heneghan as Marcus Brutus. These three gentlemen carry this piece beautifully and emote all of the emotions of anger, sadness, and even love that the characters require.
Sullivan, as Caesar, seems to have a good grasp on this character and carries his pseudo-humbleness nicely and this character’s confidence is well portrayed. He has a strong stage presence and his delivery is near flawless making for an overall worthy performance.
Eisenson, a highlight of this production, takes the role of Caius Cassius and makes it his own. The conflict is clear in his gestures and delivery making for a very believable character. His comprehension of the text is apparent and he articulates the lines clearly and with confidence making the dialogue easy to follow. His brooding quality and good chemistry with his fellow actors, especially Heneghan, adds to this character making for an excellent performance.
Lastly, Ron Heneghan tackles the gut-wrenching role of Marcus Brutus, the best friend, but loyal Roman who must decide between his love for a person or his love for a country. Heneghan captures these emotions and tribulations perfectly in this thoughtful and well-played performance. He’s completely comfortable with the character and his confidence in his choices of subtle gestures, clear, intonated delivery of dialogue, and chemistry with his cast make his portrayal seem effortless and makes him a standout in this production.
Final thought…Julius Caesar is a classical piece presented in a very modern style that is easy to follow, well-paced, and fantastically entertaining. With original text, the performances are rich and spot on and the technical aspects of light and sound just adds to this phenomenal production. The actors are well versed in the text and have a good comprehension of both character and story. Whether your familiar with the work of William Shakespeare or experiencing it for the first time, you will easily follow this timeless story and you will not be disappointed. Run, don’t walk, to get your tickets now!
This is what I thought of Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s production of Julius Caesar… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!
Julius Caesar will play through October 29 at Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, 7 South Calvert Street, Baltimore, MD 21202 For tickets, call the box office at 410-244-8570 or purchase them online.
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