Julius Caesar

February 5

March 24, 2013

in CST's Courtyard Theater

by William Shakespeare
directed by Jonathan Munby

Critical Acclaim

“In this extraordinarily well-charted and briskly paced production, many of the scenes fuse together with sudden and quite dazzling fullness; entire environments quickly envelope you, and Munby and his designers have thought up a plethora of striking images. The conspirators parade, bloody hands in the air; the ghost of Julius Caesar floats on illuminated track; a security camera captures assassination; conspirators pull out smartphones for documentation and description, as today one would. The famous crowd scenes in this play are especially well realized. Munby, demonstrably, is very interested in the timeless spot where the people's revolution meets the people's lack of planning.”

“The crucial arguments between Cassius and Brutus are expertly done. And in an exceptionally large cast, there is great clarity in many moments: From the wily Casca (the ever-riveting Larry Yando as a crucial turncoat senator, as well as the show’s expert vocal coach); to the heated relationship between Brutus and his perceptive wife, Portia (the splendid Brenda Barrie); to the sweet trust between Brutus and his innocent young aide, Lucius (a most winning Alex Weisman); to the clearly shallow character of Caesar’s young successor, Octavius (Samuel Taylor), and to the madwoman Soothsayer (haunted and haunting vocalizing by McKinley Carter).”

“We know the story. We recognize the betrayal. This is the well-known duplicity with a contemporary twist. The play authentically works transported to modern times because of the ageless desire for power. People want to be in charge. And politicians are the worst kind of control freaks. They attack their opponent to win the right to rule. It happened then. It happens now. And William Shakespeare captured it perfectly. He was the original spin doctor of political rhetoric. His strong orations sway the crowd one way and with the next speech, the people fervently bend to the other side. The entire play is riddled with powerful and memorable passages. Under the imaginative direction of Jonathan Munby, the bard’s words get a slap of reality and then a passionate gut punch. This is not politics like usual. And it’s better than any action thriller because the script is tried and true. Julius Caesar is a classic re-mix for modern audiences.”

“You have no choice but to lend this production your ears. The play feeds on its energy like a firestorm, propelled by a seemingly unstoppable and inevitable chain of events. Going beyond the minimum requirements of a history play—that it be workmanlike, straight-forward, and presentable—this Chicago-debut staging at Chicago Shakespeare by British director Jonathan Munby is spectacularly cinematic, rampaging across, over and around Alexander Dodge’s sprawling marble set, which in the play’s course evolves from totalitarian sterility to a war-ravaged Damascus circa 2013, with graffiti, a defaced campaign banner, an overturned car, and hordes of soldiers and civilians shooting wildly or fleeing in fear. This painfully contemporary Julius Caesar needs and receives all the urgency it can muster.&rdquo

     Modernized and picture-perfectly true to Bard… the concept devoutly serves the play, and you have something as bold, provocative and yet luminous as director Jonathan Munby’s modernized Julius Caesar at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me a Smartphone. And what would a contemporary Roman do with an iPhone at a political rally? Exactly, take pictures and show them around — a graphic record of unfolding folly, something we didn’t witness but only hear about, as a too-eager constituency urges a crown on its conquering hero, this great and calculating Caesar who has coyly demurred not once but three times. When civil war breaks out in the wake of Caesar’s assassination, the use of loudly popping automatic weapons feels anything but ornamental. We find ourselves uneasy observers almost too close to the heat and smoke of battle. This is no costume drama but a bloody, ear-piercing struggle between two forces, each bent on the decimation of the other.”

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