Review: ‘Julius Caesar’
‘Brush up your Shakespeare’: More than a show tune
A college professor of mine opened class one day by proposing, “One does not go to the theater to SEE Shakespeare. One goes to HEAR Shakespeare.” He was so right. Woe to the high school students who must READ the Bard, because they’re never going to get an answer to their question, “Why do we have to know this crap?” And, Dear Reader, don’t think you know “Julius Caesar” just because you read it in school. To HEAR Shakespeare, turn to the Hilberry Theatre, where “Caesar” has joined the rep season.
Shakespeare is called our greatest playwright not only for his unequaled use of language, but also for creating characters and situations that transcend their setting, giving them immortality. This story of a republic wracked by civil war and factionalism has echoes in our own times. Don’t be surprised, then, by a Roman Senate clad in gray business suits; or Pro-Caesar and Anti-Caesar factions tricked out in red and blue ties, scarves and berets. Yes. Berets.
The main character is Brutus, played by Christopher M. Bohan, a vain and weak man, beguiled by flattery into treason and murder. Though a friend of Caesar’s, he is turned by the Republicans (that’s the BLUE team here, sports fans) through his fear that the Dictator is amassing too much power and threatens tyranny. The rest, as they say, is history.
The Hilberry production is performed in three acts with short intermissions. That, coupled with a lean performance script, keeps this big play right on target. And while “Caesar” runs over two and a half hours, you’re going to see how time flies when you’re having fun.
The cast, under the direction of guest director Gordon Reinhart, performs well, and there is some insightful often inspired interpretations of this classic. But implicit in “hearing” a play is understanding what one hears. Aye, there’s the rub (woops, wrong tragedy). Shakespeare wrote in blank verse; too often, actors try to break the meter but why? Is it an attempt to modernize the performance? There are actors who rush through long speeches is it fear of the daunting job of delivering all those lines? Or is it a subconscious attempt to get through the dull parts quickly? When an actor trusts in the established rhythms, working with the playwright rather than merely reciting lines, his audience will catch the meaning of even the most complex passage Shakespeare can craft. Among the actors in this production who “get it” are Jennifer McConnell and Cynthia Barker, who play the wives of Caesar and Brutus, respectively; and war horse Greg Olszewski playing both Cicero and Cinna the Poet. They make “hearing” Shakespeare a pleasure.
In design especially costuming and in direction there are jarring contrasts between the classical and contemporary. It’s best to simply sit back and enjoy the disconnection.
“Julius Caesar” Plays in repertory at the Hilberry Theatre, 4743 Cass Ave., Detroit, through Dec. 17. $20-$28. 313-577-2972. www.theatre.wayne.edu.
The Bottom Line: The Hilberry Theatre’s rendition of the classic tragedy reminds us this compelling work still has the ability to surprise and entertain.
Preview: ‘Arlecchino, Servant of Two Masters’
Piccolo Teatro di Milano brings commedia dell’arte to Ann Arbor
The gleeful guffaws of audiences young and old will resound through the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre as the University Musical Society presents four performances of Piccolo Teatro di Milano’s production of the much-loved classic, “Arlecchino, Servant of Two Masters,” Nov. 3 5 at 8 p.m. and Nov. 6 at 2 p.m.
An array of artistic and educational events, including an exhibition of costumes, an interview with the lead actor, a study club, and a public lecture will be part of the week-long festivities.
With three weddings, two duels, a dance number, a chase sequence, a love scene, a food fight, and much more, Carlo Goldoni’s 18th-century comedy is one of the classic works of commedia dell’arte and the most renowned masterpiece of Italian theater. The plot is simple, and hilarious: The hapless and blundering Arlecchino is a natural, witty and thoughtless character. His sly tricks and disguises set off a chain reaction of mistaken identities, betrayals, long lost lovers and, of course, a happy ending with three couples of lovers finally getting married and living happily ever after.
The late Giorgio Strehler, one of the seminal theater and opera directors of the 20th century, directed this universally-acclaimed production, considered the most important interpretation of commedia dell’arte in the 20th century. The production features the definitive commedia dell’arte actor, Ferruccio Soleri, who virtually inhabits the role as he outwits the pompous, teases the fickle and charms the childlike, reminding us all to take time to laugh. He has performed the role over 2,000 times since 1953.
The play will be presented in Italian with English supertitles and lasts three hours with two intermissions.
“Arlecchino, Servant of Two Masters” will be staged Thu.-Sun., Nov. 3-6 by Piccolo Teatro di Milano at Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre, 911 North University Avenue, Ann Arbor. Tickets: $35-$45. Call the University Musical Society at 734-764-2538 or log on to www.ums.org for complete schedule information.