CSF’s ‘Julius Caesar’ is both timeless and timely
Shakespeare’s political thriller ‘moves like a house on fire’
(Above: Actors from the Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s 1958 production of “Julius Caesar”)
Yes, there will be togas. No, it won’t be boring.
The Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s 60th season continues with an homage to the plays performed during its first-ever summer in 1958, including a production of “Julius Caesar” set in classical Rome. But while the setting evokes ancient history, Director Anthony Powell assures audiences that this play is anything but.
“I don’t think Shakespeare needs to be done in tights or togas, but it makes a strong statement about how timeless his themes are,” Powell says. “You can set it in Rome, you can set it on the moon. It doesn’t matter. As long as we do our job right, the audience will make connections between then and now.”
Seemingly benevolent leaders. Jealous critics. Powerful men who ignore bad omens. Lies, scheming and scandal. These are the themes in “Julius Caesar,” the spellbinding political thriller whose characters felt as real and relevant 400 years ago as they did a century ago, a generation ago—and today.
What makes the play so timeless isn’t just its political commentary. It’s also the characters—all of them complicated, heartbreaking and fallible.
“You think of it as a big epic play, but it’s really a chamber piece,” Powell says. “It’s an intimate drama about these very complex, very troubled people who see the writing on the wall and blithely walk into the fire anyway. We’ve all done that. I’m always leaping before I look, and it generally gets me in trouble.”
“Julius Caesar” grabbed hold of Powell in high school and never let go. He remembers feeling awestruck when his history teacher dropped the needle on an LP recording of the play with Peter Finch and Patrick Wymark.
“They talked so fast,” he says. “I don’t know if it was an artistic choice or it was just to save money, but it moved like a house on fire, just at a breakneck pace, and it got me hooked. I want this production to emphasize how quickly things get wildly out of control.”
Actor Robert Sicular has played Mark Antony and Marcus Brutus in other productions of “Julius Caesar,” but this will be his first turn as the title character. He’s done extensive research on Roman history over the years and can’t wait for this new challenge.
“This guy might be the most famous person who ever lived,” Sicular says. “Caesar made himself divine. He talked about himself in the third person, and he didn’t make comments so much as pronouncements. But Shakespeare has this uncanny way of finding the humanity in him.”
It’s a classic Shakespearean move to turn larger-than-life historical figures into jealous lovers, insecure leaders and conflicted mothers and fathers—people in whom we can see ourselves, togas or no togas.
“He wrote this thing 400 years ago about something that happened 2,000 years ago, but we’re still performing it,” Sicular says, “because the same stuff is still going on.”