Shakespeare in the City has decided to tackle politics. Not to worry, though, this one doesn’t include a twitterstorm or anything present day.
This year’s production of “Julius Caesar” is set squarely in the past. Staged outdoors, with a set tucked into the trees, and a serene water view, it is a play that exposes the corruption of power in Rome in 44 B.C.
“Julius Caesar” is the seventh Shakespeare in the City production, a collaboration between Historic St. Mary’s City and The Newtowne Players. The collaboration began as kismet, that thankfully has seen a better life than that of the doomed lovers in last year’s tragedy, “Romeo and Juliet.”
Two houses, both wanting to perform Shakespeare pieces. One, Historic St. Mary’s City, as many of the plays written by Shakespeare would have inhabited the world of those who began the colony in 1634. The other, The Newtowne Players, looking for a challenge and a way to stretch their dramatic chops. Together, they formed Shakespeare in the City, focused on performing live, outdoor theater each summer.
Typically, the pieces performed have been set in their time period, and this production is no different, something the cast must appreciate during the heat of summer. Wearing light-colored togas with stripes signifying importance, the costumes harken back to the days of gladiators.
As the play opens, Julius Caesar is returning home to Rome after winning the war against Pompey. The Roman republic is awash with excitement, wanting to bestow honor upon Caesar and name him their ruler. This then sets the stage for one of Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies.
The tale of ambition, greed and power at its core is timeless, and this is where the conspiratorial plot to kill Caesar begins. Caius Cassius, played by Luke Rowe, plots a conspiracy to murder Caesar, enlisting the support of the well-respected Marcus Brutus who has doubts but is finally persuaded that Caesar’s death is necessary for the good of the republic. Jeff Maher portrays Brutus with all his complexities. Friend, foe, husband, warrior, Maher lets you see the dark and light of the character, leaving the audience to wonder if he’s looking towards the best for his country, or for himself. No such doubt exists with Rowe’s Cassius.
Rowe plays Cassius as a snake charmer, hair slicked back with the grin of a Cheshire cat. As the triumphant Caesar, Jonathan Berry is self-assured, stately and commanding. Stepping on stage, he is indeed a man of power.
The real standout, however, is Noah Busby as Antony. As he begins the famous monologue, “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears …” Busby’s Anthony is filled with a booming voice that demands attention. Antony sways the audience easily to his side while reflecting on Caesar’s death. Finishing the speech, he says as an aside, “Now let it work. Mischief thou art afoot.” Here, you know Antony has taken over control of the crowd of Rome, and you have been swept along with it.
As for the assassination itself, parents of younger children should be warned there are a few deaths that occur during the play (it is a tragedy, after all), but there is nothing gratuitous. Director Aaron Meisinger chooses not to overplay the scene but has the conspirators slowly encircle Caesar until they finally seal his fate.
The aftermath of the death of Caesar makes way for the eventual downward spiraling of Rome. What Brutus and Cassius sought to protect may ultimately be lost due to their own machinations. For those looking for a thought-provoking production on a gorgeous summer night, this is one not to be missed.
As this production is outdoors, audiences have the benefit of either bringing picnic food or purchasing at the site. A limited menu will be available through the artisanal bakery, Enso Kitchen. No outside alcohol is allowed.
“Julius Caesar” will run August 9, 10, 15, 16 and 17. All performances start at 7:30 p.m. American Sign Language translations will be on both Saturdays. Food, blankets and lawn chairs are welcome at the site. Pets are not allowed during performances. Will call and day-of ticket sales will be available inside The Shop at Farthing’s Ordinary at the museum.
Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for children, with discounts available for members, seniors, students and military. Online tickets sales are available for purchase at www.newtowneplayers.org or by calling the theater at 301-737-5447.
Written by Sharol Buck of The Newtowne Players.