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Naked Caesar

Thursday 24 March 2011

Julius Caesar

Oregon Shakespeare Festival, 23 March – 6 November, 2011

No, you won’t see Vilma Silva (or anyone else) in the buff in OSF’s new production of Julius Caesar. But this is as close to a play reading format as I’ve ever seen OSF perform…and it works brilliantly.

The performance starts outside, with these large banners of historically significant political leaders, and continues this decoration inside. It’s jarring–traditional characterizations of leaders are put aside, forecasting the ambiguous roles of Caesar, Brutus, Cassius, and Antony. The period in the staging is totally non-specific; there is nothing (and I mean nothing) to distract from the actors and the text.

It’s also the most audience-interactive performance I’ve seen at OSF in the past 19 years, even more than The Imaginary Invalid. I’m going to avoid spoilers, but the whole audience gets involved in, and surrounded by, the events in the play.

Cast highlights:

* Vilma Silva as Julius Caesar, the hero-turning-tyrant (maybe). Yes, this is a real Caesar-as-a-woman role, not Caesar-as-a-man-played-by-a-woman. Pronouns have been changed to “she”, and Calpurnia is gone, her role split among other characters. Hard as nails characterization that softens after she is murdered. Prediction: photos of her in the pre-show costume of black leather and boots will be as hot a seller at Daedalus as was Miriam’s Laube‘s little red coat photo from Dead Man’s Cell Phone.

* Jonathan Haugen as Brutus. This is one of those Caesar’s that’s totally ambiguous about good and evil. Mr. Haugen’s Brutus has moments when one wants to cheer him for taking down a tyrant; but then he reveals a tyrannical streak in himself, and one is left speechless and wondering.

* Danforth Comins as Mark Antony. Coming off his celebrated role as the weak husband as Brick in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, here Mr. Comins is a strong leader, good friend, but also ambitious and opportunistic. He is revealing a depth of capability that makes him one of the strong timbers in the OSF frame.

This performance is all-out tragedy. There are no soft edges or quilting, as in Measure for Measure. Be prepared not so much to have preconceptions rent apart, as much as left to dissolve in the mists of time. This production of Caesar amplifies the note that history is written and re-written by the victors, and the playwrights.

2h30m with one intermission. Note that some playbills show it as 1h45m with no intermission; that was not correct for the first preview. Highly recommended.

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