Directed by Michael Ouellette
February 5-7, 12-14
Kresge Little Theater
Conspirators wear business suits. Mark Antony chats on his cell phone. The soldiers of Brutus deck themselves out in camo and army boots.
Welcome to the 21st century and MIT Dramashop’s recent performance of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Following in the footsteps of the American Repertory Theatre’s production of the same work last year, Dramashop works to bring the classic message closer to home. It’s a message even more relevant now, at the dawn of new American leadership, than last year, when the theatre of American politics was still in the first act.
It’s not necessarily original — in fact, I think a traditional performance would be harder to find these days — but when it’s done well it’s powerful. The performance got me thinking — about politics, people, democracy, the balance between hero and Common Man — which is one sign of success. I wonder, though, if those thoughts came at the intended moments or for the intended reasons.
While a brilliant effort from the members of Dramashop, I did sense (as I do with most altered Shakespeare) that the change of scenery had more to do with what was available in the costume closet than with what the troupe intended to say. The text was (thankfully) unaltered, and I believe that the words themselves spoke volumes more than any of the more blatant production decisions made by the troupe. This is less a criticism for the performance, which I enjoyed fully, but a recommendation for future viewers of Shakespeare to ignore the minor changes in scenery and character portrayal and focus on the reason theatres still perform Shakespeare — that is, because it’s Shakespeare. If you don’t take your eyes off the pinstripes, you can’t watch the game.
The performance was carried well by Travis S. Newsad ’10, as Brutus. Newsad, perhaps more than any other in the cast, managed to represent well the meaning and beauty of the original text while still blending in with and playing off of the foils around him. The character’s depth carried through, and the sympathy aroused by the classical tragic hero became the linchpin of the production.
I found many of the other major actors to be less engaging — they frequently spoke too quickly and occasionally stumbled over lines.
Furthermore, I found the odd dichotomy of Mark Antony’s character — drunken aviator-sporting playboy in Act I turned avid loyalist in Act V — to be a thin representation of what should be a full counterpart to Brutus. As performed, Antony came across as a corrupt mobster, with little motivation beyond a vague desire to prevent change. This interpretation, I feel, cloaks much of the backhanded moral relativity that Shakespeare intended.
Particularly within the current post-modern poltical scene, I feel that “modernized” Shakespeare needs to escape the traditional, simplified character portrayals we all put up with in high school, and enter into a world where figures are analyzed, rather than just villainized. Nonetheless, within the confines of the role, as-presented, Sean P. Faulk ’11, managed to create an entertaining and interesting Antony.
And while I don’t agree wholeheartedly with the production decisions made, I do support Dramashop’s decision to put on Caesar; it, perhaps more than any other Shakespeare play, has the most current weight and the strongest forboding quality. It, more than many of Shakespeare’s works, is up for interpretation, and one of the better marks of Dramashop’s production is that it was left that way. No direct political allegory was made (at least not clearly), and so it’s up to the audience to decide who in today’s political arena is Antony, Caesar, Brutus, or even the minor, but telling, poet, Cinna. The audience rules, and, as in democracy, it should. All in all, it was an admirable performance, and, while not flawless, it glows with a certain home-grown luster. I’m certainly looking forward to future Dramashop productions, and I encourage readers to do the same.