Theater Review: “Julius Caesar” proves stirring at the Folger Theatre
Robert Richmond’s production of Julius Caesar is executed beautifully with a compelling, ever-present sense of impending doom that captures the audience’s attention and refuses to let go. With heavy symbolism, captivating costumes and phenomenal acting, this is a must-see show that will no doubt change how its audience views Shakespeare.
The show runs from Oct. 28 to Dec. 7 at the Folger Shakespeare Library.
Before the play even begins, there is already an actor on stage; a hooded figure in tattered grey robes, sitting against a stone wall of the same color. Above her head is a basin from which fog constantly rises. The entire set is fairly bleak, consisting of multiple sets of stairs comprised of grey stone. However, this dull color scheme is strongly accented when the set is plunged into green, red and purple stage lighting, reflecting the emotions of the actors.
The costumes in the first half of the show are not out of the ordinary for a Shakespeare play. Male actors wear earth-toned vests, loose pants and shirts and boots. Female characters wear very plain dresses. However, the soothsayer and her accompanying ghouls stand out. These actors are concealed in large grey robes that give their moments an unsettling, ethereal feel.
In the second half of the play, the costumes seem to take a complete 180 degree turn. Following the death of Caesar, Brutus and Cassius are now at war with Marc Antony, and their outfits make that very clear. However, what they wear is reminiscent of World War I. All actors are dressed in muted trench coats and gasmasks, bearing rifles with bayonets. This stark change in style instills fear in the audience and emphasizes the horrors of war that are to follow.
Though many may associate Shakespeare with lofty, renaissance music, this production strays into experimental territory. Tensions rise as low, droning ambient tones play over the dialogue. In more emotional scenes, a simple orchestral score plays, accompanied by a mournful choir. Like the lighting, this music captures and emphasizes the actors’ emotions perfectly. Aside from music, sparse sound effects are utilized, but their timing seemed to catch the audience off guard every time. Whether it’s the sound of booming thunder accompanied by a flash of green light or a bombshell that throws the actors to the ground, the sounds were effective.
Of course, this production cannot be discussed without bringing up the actors, all of whom bring their characters to life. No character feels like a stock role; everyone has an integral part to play. Most notably however, are Louis Butelli (Cassius) and Anthony Cochrane (Brutus). These actors bring dynamic personalities to these characters that could never be interpreted by simply reading the script. They have their own subtle quirks and tendencies that make them unbelievably human.
This is not your average Shakespeare production that you see with your high school English class. This daring production of Julius Caesar makes choices that capture the audience’s heart, taking it for a dark and unstable journey that no one will soon forget.