I mentioned to a couple of people that I was heding out to see the Donmar Warehouse’s raved about production of Julius Caesar last night at St. Ann’s Warehouse. I’ll just say it at the outset: this is being called the greatest performance of Caesar in recent years. I think it’s one of the best productions of anything that I’ve ever seen.
Here are just a few of my thoughts on what grabbed me the most – I’m still processing the experience. DEFINITELY SEE IT. they have a limited number of $20 rush tickets, and they close on November 7.
The unconventional set – the fourth wall is broken down from the beginning. The audience enters through a warehouse door that becomes the wings for the play. House manager is dressed as a guard. Audience given time to pee before show (no intermission). Bathrooms have violence and drugs signs.
These actors are so versatile and fluent, as the Times says, in Shakespeare. Those words don’t really do them any kind of justice. As soon as Brutus started speaking, I was hooked. I found myself wanting to believe anything she said. Same with Cassius. They’re amazing foils for each other, in voice and in presence and in skill. (The Times says he in reference to all male characters. I like she, to refer back to the prisoner character encoding the Shakespeare character, and to play a bit with the historical aspects of gender and sexual subversion in Shakespeare when acted only by men). The women who play (but I’d rather say reimagine) Brutus and Caesar are both fairly androgynous, too, which is an interesting addition.
Gender. The show is staged within a women’s prison. There’s a smattering of homoeroticism, but mostly on the part of Caesar – in this play, it seems to be part of how she came to power. The women play multiple roles, move props, rearrange the set. The paratext of the prison is subtly and beautifully added. There’s a moment in the scene where Cassius confronts Brutus, where you become aware of a noise somewhere in the theater. I thought it was from the audience at first, until Brutus dropped her gorgeous diction and tone and screamed an obscenity backstage. Cassius begins her next line laughing with ten audience, and then Brutus pulls back into full grief to tell us that Portia has died. The paratext comes in, too, in the last glimpse we get of Caesar on stage, in a pretty shattering way. The audience gasped as one when we realized the point the creative team was making. (Seriously. Go see it and then we can talk about it.)
Caesar’s death breaks down the fourth wall even more deeply. An audience member in the front row is ushered from his seat by Antony and seated on the stage. Caesar himself sits in that chair, and a camera trains on him. The audience sees her (and themselves) projected on the back wall of the stage (which contains the door through which we entered and exited the space). Every stab is seen up close. When Brutus stabs her, Caesar stands and collapses in Brutus’ arms.
Modern cultural references are subtly woven into the play, too. The first mention of the Ides of March comes from a tabloid. Cassius reads Playboy. The armies and senators’ costumes evoke both Patty Hearst and Che Guevara. There’s even a quasi-Shining twin (the Soothsayer)! (The Times didn’t like that last part, but I thought it was awesome.)