The Utah Shakespearean Festival's production of "Julius Caesar"
is a riveting socio-political drama that's as relevant today as it was in Shakespeare's
or the real Julius Caesar's. The traditional production seems to drive this
home all the more. If you like traditional Shakespeare as Will might have seen
it, then Cedar City, Utah is the place to go.
Shakespeare paints Caesar as a man of the people. The play opens buoyantly with a celebration of the tradesmen. They love Caesar. On the balcony above, two conspirators, the aristocracy, question them. One tradesman who is in a position where he can't be seen from above, mocks them. The soothsayer lurks in the shadows.
Caesar's procession enters and he's such a charismatic figure that the audience applauds his mere entrance. He turns and addresses the audience. This concerns Brutus, who is being harangued by Cassius to join the conspiracy. Cassius drips of envy and jealousy of Caesar but Brutus' only concern is for Rome. Unfortunately, he doesn't have the confidence that the people can choose. Each time a cheer goes up from inside the arena, Brutus moves closer to joining the conspiracy. When he learns that Antony's offering of a crown to Caesar is the cause of the cheers, he joins in.
The thunder and lightning terrify Casca on the eve of the assassination. He sees it as a terrible omen. Cassius is in his element, though. He struts and swaggers as if this is the sign of his power and the omen of his success. When they go to persuade Brutus, Portia notes these men who have come to visit whose cause is such that they hide their faces from the darkness. She pleads with Brutus to tell her what's happening, but when he agrees Caius Ligarius knocks, and Brutus leaves with him.
Caesar is almost persuaded to not go to the Senate, but in an ironic twist, it's when Decius says that the Senate will offer him a crown that day, he goes. The assassination is pretty straight forward, but it still sends chills up your spine. When Brutus stabs him he falls into his arms. It's almost humorous when Brutus suggests they bathe their hands in Caesar's blood, wave their weapons over their heads and run to the public square yelling "Peace." When Antony agreed to join them if he is allowed to praise Caesar, he shakes hands with them. They all flinch, Casca wags his knife, then perfunctorily grabs his hand and moves away.
"Julius Caesar" is my favorite Shakespeare play, and I seem to have some sort of weird cosmic connection to it. Both times I've seen it outdoors, something has happened. In Ashland, thunder and lightning shook the sky when the ghost of Caesar appeared to Brutus. In Cedar City, this time, it started to rain after the assassination and, while Antony was grieving over Caesar's body, came down so hard that the play was stopped for about fifteen minutes. Then then rain stopped, and the rest of the evening was fine.
The scene in the square is one of the best examples of mans' herd mentality in theater. Brutus presents his reasons for killing Caesar and the crowd goes from wanting to kill him to "Hail Brutus!" you have saved us from a tyrant. Next Antony speaks , and they all come over to his side to the point that, after the reading of the will, the next thing you hear, aside from the general riot in the streets is that Brutus and Cassius have fled the city.
The supposed will of Caesar, as read by Antony is a classic example of public welfare vs. private greed, and cements Caesar's place as a man of the people. He leaves all his gardens and estates to the general public, so that they have access to these lands for their enjoyment. The conspirators, have all, save Brutus, acted out of jealousy and envy. It's like they're afraid something's going to be taken from them and given to the common folk by Caesar. Antony and Octavius scheme to divide up the empire between themselves and Lepidus, but they're even trying to cut him out.
The appearance of the ghost of Caesar to Brutus is always a chilling scene, and it was here. Caesar says he will see Brutus at the Battle of Philippi. With all the strategic blunders by Cassius and Brutus, they still win the day, before turning their swords on themselves when they think erroneously, that they've lost. You never see Caesar there, but as Brutus points out, his spirit is everywhere.
Joe Cronin is a temendous Caesar. He's someone you would follow. He's extremely charismatic, a commanding presence. Donald Sage Mackay's Brutus is agonizing over every decision. Most turn out wrong, too, from the assassination to the decision to march to Philippi to do battle. He's a philosopher, and very honorable. Micheal Kevin's Casca is determined but unsure. Octavius is portrayed as very intelligent with an arrogance to him by Cameron McNary. At the end, after the conquest he walks off with a bounce in his step and a half smirk on his face.
This tremendous production of "Julius Caesar" continues, along with "The Tempest," "Two Gentlemen of Verona," "Ah, Wilderness!," "Arsenic and Old Lace," and "The Pirates of Penzance" through October 20 at The Utah Shakespearean Festival at Cedar City.