William Shakespeare’s JULIUS CAESAR, a play based on true events from Roman history, is now in repertory at A Noise Within (ANW) in Pasadena.
It has an excellent ensemble of actors, so much that it makes it difficult to pick favorites. Still, Rafael Goldstein shines as Mark Antony, giving a speech that is compelling and convincing to everybody in the audience. Robertson Dean delivers a properly ambivalent Brutus, and Patrick O’Connell is the mighty and proud, yet victimized, Julius Caesar. His “Et tu, Brute?” could not be any more impactful. His ghost could not be any more macabre.
The play tells the story of the assassination of Julius Caesar by a group of conspiring Roman senators; a group that includes Caesar’s friend Brutus. While the assassins think Caesar’s death is best for Rome, Mark Antony’s speech over the corpse turns public opinion against the murderers, rousing a mob that drives them away from Rome and ultimately leads to their demise.
The costumes and stage at ANW are a bit confusing as the play is not set in a “Roman world.” Instead, the characters wear long coats and WWII army caps and other types of hats and beanies. The action happens between metal scaffolds and plastic drapes. Other productions of this play have set it in the 1920s and 1930s to compare Caesar to Hitler and Mussolini, but this Caesar at ANW looks very much like a Caesar rather than either of those two infamous guys. One good thing about the set is that it allows Mark Antony to lift and lower himself on a mechanical platform as he delivers the funeral speech. It accomplishes both to get the attention of the audience and to add some humor into the moment.
The most poignant scene of the play is Caesar’s assassination. Shakespeare simply wrote the stage direction: “They stab Caesar.” Yet, one thing is to read it and another to watch several men doing just that. The scene at ANW seems to follow closely the descriptions by Thomas North in The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romanes, when he said “that Caesar turned him no where but hee was stricken at by some… and was hacked and mangled among them, as a wilde beast taken of hunters.” He further said “that Caesar did still defende him selfe against the rest, running every way with his body…” and that “he had three and twenty wounds upon his body; and divers of the conspirators did hurt themselves, striking one body with so many blowes.” That is what you see happening on stage at ANW, and when it’s done, you find yourself breathing again.
ANW does a fantastic job at telling the story of JULIUS CAESAR and making it memorable. It is a successful effort by directors Geoff Elliott and Julia Rodriguez-Elliott.
JULIUS CAESAR will run through May 8. Tickets start at $40 and can be purchased at http://www.ANoiseWithin.org or by calling (626) 356-3100. There are post-performance conversations with the artists scheduled on April 17, May 3, and May 8.
Photo: The Cast of “Julius Caesar”. © Photo by Craig Schwartz 2015