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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Julius Caesar at the Folger Shakespeare Theatre

I just went to see Julius Caesar on Sunday at the Folger Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, D.C.

It's a great production and if you are anywhere near Washington, D.C. you should not miss it.

It runs through 7 December. Here is a link for more information and tickets:

I am not a professional theatre critic, but I would like to share some of my thoughts with you.

Maurice Jones as Mark Antony
all photos by Teresa Wood

I have seen several plays at the Folger, many of which directed by Robert Richmond, and all of them have been very good, but I would have to say that this is his most ambitious production, and in many ways it is the most memorable of them all.

It is always interesting to see if and how the Folger changes the set design. In a recent production of Richard III, the stage was moved to the center of where the audience usually sits, so it was a theatre in the round, and it allowed King Richard to move about the stage in a way that I had not before seen at the Folger.

This time for Julius Caesar the set held a massive and new design, that resembled stone, and gave the set an ancient quality. But the set could be manipulated for modern effects. It was very impressive, and really set the tone of the play.

This ancient versus modern tension was worked throughout the play, with the costumes which did not specify a time period in the beginning but then eventually transformed into a more modern period that strongly evoked the battlefield uniforms of World War I.

But what was most interesting thing about the look of the play was the frequent use of long and dingy robes to cover the characters. The robes looked like they belonged to the Weird Sisters in Macbeth, and there were very strong echoes of that play in this -- which shouldn't be that strange, since Julius Caesar receives a prophecy from a Soothsayer just as Macbeth receives prophecies from the Weird Sisters.

The robes gave the entire production a much darker, moodier, and scarier tone than I have ever seen before, and I think it was a risk that pays off. The play became much more effective, and this immersive mood only heightened the drama, and the violence on stage. 

The music was excellent and complemented the action and the actors very effectively, as did the lighting which was choreographed very well, and was used to great effect.

The actors are very good, and as an ensemble they are excellent.

Louis Butelli and Anthony Cochrane

It was great to see Louis Butelli again, whom I have seen before at the Folger, as Bardolph in Henry V, and Feste in Twelfth Night, and his Cassius here was to my mind the real star of this production. 

I don't usually focus on this character as much as I do Brutus or Mark Antony, but there was something about Mr. Butelli's performance that really stood out. There was an energy to it, and an edginess to it that was very entertaining. 

Also, this actor really does have a "lean and hungry look." Watching him on stage, I was reminded of how Mark Rylance was described, as having an "animal cunning."

Louis Butelli and Anthony Cochrane

Anthony Cochrane is a very compelling Brutus. He has a great everyman kind of quality to him, that makes our sympathy and empathy for him all the more effective. His scenes with the excellent Shirine Babb as his wife Portia were especially moving.

Maurice Jones was a great Mark Antony. He made Mark Antony's duplicity, his slickness, very appealing, especially when he speaks to the crowd. It is a difficult scene, in order to make Mark Antony seemingly sincere even when he is at his most disingenuous, but Mr. Jones gets right to the heart of the character. His ability to make him seem human and three-dimensional is very entertaining. 

Anthony Cochrane and Michael Sharon

Michael Sharon was a great Julius Caesar. I have never really cared for the character, since I find him to be an arrogant stiff. It is a difficult challenge for the actor, to make Julius Caesar human. We should feel horror when he dies. But also, we must understand why the assassins would conspire to kill him.

Mr. Sharon threads that needle very well, making him both repellant enough to understand his murder, but compelling enough that we find his murder very troubling.

I applaud the director Robert Richmond for taking something of a risk with this production, since with this carefully chosen and excellent group of actors, the risk more than paid off.

I would venture to guess that Mr. Richmond wanted to make a Julius Caesar unlike what you have seen before, in the hopes that it will stay with you, and perhaps even haunt your memory. If that was his ambition, he more than succeeded.


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