‘Julius Caesar’ zooms along in shortened version

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Writers Theatre’s production of ‘Julius Caesar’ begs the question – what do you want to take away from Shakespeare’s play about politics and power.

Kareem Bandealy (Brutus) l, and Scott Parkinson (Cassius) r. in Julius Caesar at Writers Theatre. Photo by Michael Brosilow
Kareem Bandealy (Brutus) l, and Scott Parkinson (Cassius) r. in Julius Caesar at Writers Theatre. Photo by Michael Brosilow

If you want an overpowering sense that assassination of a powerful figure such as Julius Caesar could only call forth chaos whether in Rome or, more broadly, the world, then you will appreciate the WT’s technologically strong visual and sound effects.

If looking for Shakespeare’s character development portraying Caesar’s ambition and hubris then you might want to return to the original play because even though Madrid St. Angelo is excellent in the role, the conquering general and empire builder who would-be-king is not sufficiently developed in WT’s current version.

The play, already Shakespeare’s briefest, is whittled down to about 105 minutes. For full impact, WT’s production zooms through the action accompanied by stunning videos without intermission.

Adopted and directed by Michael Halberstam and Scott Parkinson, the play focuses on sly Cassius’ (interestingly interpreted by Parkinson) convincing Brutus (well depicted by Kareem Bandeal) that Caesar has become too powerful for Rome’s good.

This is followed by a strong murder scene and the important Mark Antony (Thomas Vincent Kelly) speech of “I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.” But Antony’s moderate demeanor, supposedly innocent to belie his rabble rousing intentions, seems almost too sweet to rouse anyone to war and destruction. It is the visuals that do it, instead.

There is some, but little, reference to how Antony and his compatriots plan to divide the country now that Caesar is gone. More problematic is the battlefield of Philippi where Cassius and Brutus confusingly meet their end, seemingly out of character.

Shakespeare’s plays are often moved to other periods. Purists might object but theater-goers used to different settings likely will have no problem with WT’s setting.

It appears to adapt pieces from different eras perhaps intending to say this kind of power play could take place any time. Helmets appear to nod to Roman times while cloaks give a 1700s impression but a fancy phone could have been taken from 1800s France and the iPhones used say the action is now.

Arguable, the best part of the production, aside from the fun visuals, is that it still carries Shakespeare’s themes of power and how the elimination of one force leads to others just as undesirable.

Details: ‘Julius Caesar’ is at Writers Theatre,  325 Tudor Court, Glencoe, IL now through October 16, 2016. For tickets and other information call (847) 242 -6000 and visit Writers Theatre.

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