The second play I saw was Julius Caesar. I got all the Shakespeare out of the way early. I should probably put a disclaimer on these posts that I am not a huge Shakespeare fan. I mostly like comedies, and I like some of the history plays, but I am certainly not a buff. I have issues with the dramatic structure of the tragedies. They follow the same line, eventually the protagonist is left all alone and a lot of depressing soliloquies follow. Plays are more interesting when they build up, instead of being stripped down. And directors play into that. Most tragedies I have seen have spent a lot of time adding texture to the first act, and then leave the second act alone.
Julius Caesar fell into this trap. The director decided to explore the whole idea of guerilla uprisings. Outside the theater and in the lobby there were banners with the pictures of leaders who have been assassinated, some of whom have been ruled martyrs, and some who have been deemed tyrants. The actors were outfitted in modern guerilla clothing. In the first act, there was a lot of action, and they even created a warzone feeling with crash boxes and people running from bombs. But those sorts of ideas seemed to run out by the second act. Even though there was a battle raging on, they didn’t include any atmospheric elements. They lost a brilliant opportunity to add realism and keep the audience’s realism.
The one element I did like in the second act during the battle scenes was the use of long wooden poles as weapons. The loud sounds of the rods crashing made it chaotic. I really liked the woman who played Julius (a woman, oh my) and that they didn’t try to pretend she was a man or treat her differently for being a woman. And she managed off the “glorious leader” air well. My only disappointment because of this was that they cut Caesars wife as a result. I wish they had just made them lesbians and not made a big deal about it.
The ensemble was great, since they had to play about a million roles throughout the play. It did get confusing have the same 5 people constantly switching sides, but the actors had conviction. There was a great diversity in gender and race in the chorus, which I wished had carried over the main roles. Caesar was a woman, but Brutus, Mark Anthony, and Cassius were all middle aged white men, and I sometimes couldn’t keep them straight.
I thought this play was a wonderful experiment in atmosphere that just feel short. I don’t know if the director just ran out of time or just didn’t care about the second act, but in my opinion, Shakespeare needs contextual elements added, or the play becomes too distant from the lives of the audience.