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Julius Caesar at Throughline Theatre

A bare-bones set and cross-gender casting are very Elizabethan, yet make for wonderfully modern theater

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If Donald Trump had read Julius Caesar, he wouldn’t have let Ted Cruz speak at the recent Republican National Convention. For any student of this deeply instructive political play of Shakespeare’s would have known that Cruz would likely say, “I come to bury Donald, not to praise him.”

Productions such as the new one by Throughline Theatre Company are what keep the Bard fresh even in the 400th anniversary of his death. Director Joseph Ryan Yow’s utilization of a bare-bones set and cross-gender casting in many roles is, ironically, very Elizabethan, yet makes for wonderfully modern theater. And it brings exciting freshness to scenes often moribund with convention.

Furthermore, the text’s original pronouns are preserved, so a female actor playing a male role — such as Caesar — gets to truly inhabit the character’s personae.

Perhaps the most moving result of these reversals occurs in the deliciously tender scene between Jessie Wray Goodman (Brutus), and Craig James Ketchum (Portia). They enable us to experience this exchange without the centuries of conditioning that have trained us to not really hear the words, but only see the empty ritual of such moments.

Goodman brings great strength to the play’s major part, yet seems to believe that Shakespeare’s language should be spoken in a fast, clipped style. Unfortunately, much of the performance races forward as if the audience might be bored otherwise, and characters often deliver their lines out of breath.

Lydia Gibson, however, is spectacular as Mark Anthony, and moves like a dancer burdened with armor, even though her shoulders are covered only by spaghetti straps. Gibson delivers the key “let slip the dogs of war” speech in Act III with arresting sensitivity, instead of the usual dramatic bombast.
Krista Ivan’s neo-Mad Max/Matrix costumes somehow really work, as do the quirky array of swords and weapons.

From the solid cast of 18, special mention should be made of Hazel Carr Leroy (Caesar), Richard Eckman (Casca), and David Loehr (Cassius). Also, as dramaturg, I’m sure Loehr contributed enormously to this show’s success through the creative theatrical risks it takes.

This may not be your father’s Julius Caesar, but certainly ends up all the richer for being your mother’s.

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