Tyranny Dies, but Shakespeare Lives on at Trinity Rep

jcSitting down for Trinity Repertory’s production you know one thing: This is not going to be your run-of-the-mill production. We all know the story. Julius Caesar is killed by conspirators in Rome. We know the famous lines uttered by Caesar, “et tu Brute?” and Marc Antony’s famous “friends, Romans, countrymen.” So how does a theater make this new, exciting and relevant to today? By making the production mirror our current situation, revealing tensions of gender, the problems of violence, the corruption of power. Trinity Rep’s production does this, and so much more. But we only have so much room for a review, so let’s get going!

Walking into Trinity Rep’s Dowling Theater, Michael McGarty’s set encases you in Tyler Dobrowski’s vision. McGarty’s set is reminiscent of contemporary shows with cold metal staging and a musician’s pit above the action, acting almost like a Greek chorus with their undertones between and during some scenes. The addition of this quartet from Providence Community Music Works is a great touch.

Following a recent trend in theatrical lighting design, the production employs projections to augment the story. It works here for the most part. I felt it went on a bit long in during Act 2, but it didn’t detract from the action on stage. Generally, the projection assisted the story and helped the audience understand what was going on. With the minimalist set, having projections that explain where the action is taking place during the battle is certainly helpful. Having Marc Antony’s famous speech broadcast on the walls is powerful. There is even a news clip about Caesar, which really set the tone. Watching it I couldn’t help but think what a wonderful Project Discovery event this show must make. Frequently younger people are scared off by Shakespeare, but this is a production students can (and should) enjoy.

In the first scene, we not only see Romans posting Hail Caesar propaganda on the set, but we can hear people chanting Caesar’s name. Dobrowsky uses every inch of the space from seats to aisles. The actors interact with the audience, giving you a sense that you are in the middle of this frenzy. Fantastic choices in direction.

If you’ve been around in Rhode Island, you know the caliber of acting at Trinity is top rate. We’re so fortunate to have a Tony Award winning regional theater in our little state, and this production stands up to the theater’s long tradition of quality shows. So needless to say, there isn’t a weak performance in the cast. Here are some of my favorites, however.

When I heard that Julius Caesar would be played by Anne Scurria, I was elated. As a lifelong Rhode Islander (and former aspiring actress), nothing energized me more than seeing Anne take the stage as Scrooge for the first time. It was a powerful message to send to audiences, and one that I am glad to see Trinity still sends. That said, Scurria’s performance was flawless. She gave the audience chills when she returned as Caesar’s ghost, and even though you know Caesar doesn’t heed the warnings about the Ides of March, you truly believe she is just going to kick back with Calpurnious (played by Mauro Hantman) and spend the day home.

Joe Wilson Jr.’s portrayal of Marc Antony will be talked about for a long time. The multimedia element of Marc Antony delivering one of Shakespeare’s most famous speeches to a camera that is then projected onto the set is especially memorable. Part of this could be chalked up to the technology, but it is Wilson Jr.’s command of the stage that makes this scene a highlight of the evening.

Brutus serves as another highlight. You should see this show to see Stephen Thorne as Brutus alone. This is his role. In fact when I left, my friend said to me, “He will always be Brutus to me.”

There is also a noteworthy part that tends to be overlooked: Lucius, Lucia in this version. Lucia was played by eighth grader Tara Sullivan. She did a lovely job; however, her voice needs to be mentioned. When she began to sing you could hear a pin drop. Her beautiful voice is years older than she, and matched veteran singer Rachel Warren (who played her mother Portia sublimely) note for note. Sullivan has a bright future on the stage.

There are many reasons to love Trinity, but personally I love the talkback sessions after, especially for a show like this. You can’t just leave the theater after a production like this, you need to sit and digest it with fellow theater lovers. When you go, and seriously you really should, make sure you hang out and chat after.

Julius Caesar runs through October 11th. Go to trinityrep.com for tickets, or call 401-351-4242.

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