With its intense and relentless new production of “Julius Caesar”, Chicago Shakespeare Theater proves there’s still life, and relevance, left in this 400 year-old play.
Quiet scheming dominates the bulk of Act I. Led by Cassius (an explosive Jason Kolotouros) and Brutus (a sympathetic John Light), a group of senators plot to kill Julius Caesar (a controlled and even-keeled David Darlow) before he ruins their democracy by accepting the role of king.
The juxtaposition of sleek modern clothing and Shakespeare’s Old English seems to transport the story to an alternate universe, one much like our own except less evolved linguistically. Shakespeare’s unaltered prose lends a heavy tone and the contemporary style reminds us that deceit and ambition still plague humanity just as strongly today as it did two thousand years ago.
Though the majority of the costumes are unembellished business suits or army fatigues, costume designer Ilona Somogyi uses small pops of color to her advantage. When Caesar arrives at the senate to be made monarch (or so he thinks) his tie choice is purple, the color of royalty, and the senators all don red power ties, the shade of freshly drawn blood.
In Act II Alexander Dodge’s set transforms seamlessly from gorgeous to gritty as the war between Antony, a loyalist to Caesar, and Brutus rages on. Clearly audience members were not warned about the very realistic gun violence in the show. Everyone jumped in their seats as cap guns fired. One audience-member released a pop of nervous laughter when Octavius, heir of Julius, executed two men and a young boy before the curtains closed. At some points, director Jonathan Munby allows the battle scenes to verge on melodramatic (a soothsayer running around stage lip-syncing a loud, ominous wail pouring from the speakers) but overall Munby’s dedication to revamping and invigorating the classic tale is admirable.