DAILY CAMERA: Colorado Shakespeare Festival’s ‘Julius Caesar’ sticks to roots
Boulder troupe’s orthodox approach is bold, refreshing and insightful
Political intrigue is, by its very nature, transitory.
Plots and machinations morph with the current ruling party; as power shifts, so does the political consciousness. The deeds, victories and downfalls of even the most accomplished leaders have a very short shelf life in the popular imagination.
The rise and fall of Julius Caesar is a remarkable exception to the rule. The stunning ascendance and violent end of one of ancient Rome’s most revolutionary leaders has consistently captured the imagination of the Western world for more than 2,000 years. William Shakespeare found inspiration in Caesar’s downfall, and his take on a political assassination from the ancient world continues to spark controversy.
Indeed, Shakespeare drew timeless lessons from Caesar’s story, observations that have continued to apply to politics, no matter the time or place. The Colorado Shakespeare Festival‘s current production of “The Tragedy of Julius Caesar,” however, forgoes the temptation to draw parallels between Caesar’s story and the modern political landscape, even during a season when the Public Theater of New York has drawn international attention for its Trumpian spin on the play’s title character.
Instead, director Anthony Powell cleaves to the roots of Shakespeare’s work and its historical source material. Robert Sicular plays Julius Caesar as the historical Julius Caesar, a decidedly Roman ruler whose ambition and cunning paved the way for an unprecedented rise to power and a violent end. Caesar’s enemies, led by Marcus Brutus (Scott Coopwood) and Caius Cassius (Matthew Schneck), act for the welfare of the Roman Republic, and not on behalf of any modern government.
In other words, the CSF’s remount of one of the titles from its original season 60 years ago is a traditional take on the story, one that retains its original setting and motivations. In a CSF season that’s seen plenty of tweaks to casting and settings in some of Shakespeare’s best-known works, that orthodox approach is bold, refreshing and insightful. Powell and the cast stick to the script with an eye for detail and a consummate intensity. In doing so, they highlight the timeless lessons of Shakespeare’s words and Caesar’s downfall. This take on the tragedy is unabashedly Roman, but its ties to our modern world are never lost in the cultural and historical distance.
“Caesar” is one of literature’s most durable political thrillers, and that element is constant in the way Powell and the rest of the crew approach the story. Their focus on the intrigue is consistent, and they include very little in the way of frills. Scenic Designer Caitlin Ayer’s set scheme, for example, is minimal – unadorned vertical backdrops are the only hints of the grandeur of the ancient Roman forum.