More so than the classic interpretations you’ll find on the beach this summer, The Escape Artists’ production of J. Caesar creates a world that is more chaotically real than high art. Like all good science fiction, the post-apocalyptic feminist bent allows the text to sit outside classical history to be commented upon with fresh eyes – an old story told anew.
Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar recounts the final days in the life of Caesar as he turns down the crown so many feel he deserves. Captains Cassius and Casca, jealous of the godlike pedestal they see Caesar ascending enlist the aid of Brutus, the noblest Roman of all, to murder Caesar and protect the republic from becoming subject to yet another tyranny of kings. The psychological game play of Cassius upon the simple yet stalwart Brutus and the final speech of Antony’s over the body of Caesar have proved the play a favourite of classical actors for centuries. But this production pushes the hyper-masculinity of the roles into new territory by casting women into the far flung future where a tribalistic warrior society has taken control of the eternal city.
Using strategically placed electronic screeches and drums beats, The Escape Artists create a palpable sense of dread. Steve Charles’ sound design proves to underscore rather than decorate the themes of the play by creating an unpredictable and terrifying soundscape that seems to relentlessly pursue the performers around the stage. Behaving like another character, the sound gives a visceral credence to the panicked fears of Brutus and the conspirators that makes the tragedy feel all the more human.
Erin Moon’s Calpurnia/Portia radiates strength and solidity, while Tracey Power’s Antonia exudes a wild athleticism that enhances the tribalistic feel of the piece without losing the charm of Marc Antony. But it is Caroline Cave’s Brutus that provides the reason to see this show. Playing the role with a grace and nobility weighted with moments of fear and insecurity, she grants the character a roundedness and sympathy often forgotten by many who see Brutus as a simple pawn in Cassius’ power-play. Her performance is a treasure.
J. Caesar is, at its best, a truly inspiring spectacle of classical theatre. While the play loses some energy during the longer, more static speeches, the fight scenes, choreographed by Paul Gelineau and Ryan Bolton, and Barbara Clayden’s dark costuming create a strong reality that pushes you through. It is a powerful version of a classic play complete with an incredible performance by Caroline Cave. Go see it.
J. Caesar, adapted by the Escape Artists, runs in repertory with Miss Shakespeare May 5-17 at Performance Works (1218 Cartwright St, Granville Island) May 5-17 and The Kay Meek Centre (1700 Mathers Ave, West Vancouver) May 21-29. Tickets are available through Tickets Tonight. Visit https://escapeartists.ca for more information.