As you enter Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s Court Theater to see English director Jonathan Munby’s take on Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, you know you’re in for something electric, bold and in-your-face. A crowd of Caesar supporters rally on the stage and in the aisles, selling Caesar swag. Country music blares as the cast breaks into an impromptu electric slide, chanting “Caesar!” A banner descends from the flies, directing us to CaesarForAll.com.
Yes, this modern Caesar takes us into a world where politics and celebrity run together; a time when people are seeking a leader with virtue and vision — proving the timelessness of this moral-driven classic.
Confession: this is my first Caesar, having read the play ages ago. I know it’s been done, perhaps overdone, in this fair city (Babes with Blades is staging an all-female version in March), but I’m delighted my introduction to this tale of fate vs. free will is through such an explosive production, steeped in Chicago talent with luxury casting of a scene-stealing Larry Yando as Casca and Barbara Robertson as Caesar’s portent-fearing wife, Calphurnia (though I wish Bill Shakes had given her more to do than merely serve as a device to demonstrate Caesar’s crumbling constitution. That said, Robertson has some fun ensemble work when she joins the mob minions in act 2).
In the pivotal role of the honorable Brutus, UK actor John Light brings a driven, monomaniacal focus to doing what’s right and good for Rome at the sacrifice of what’s right and good for his person. Though, I’d wish he’d settle on an accent, but perhaps his flipping between British and American English represents his internal struggle.
And personifying the potent theme of portent in Shakespeare’s prose, McKinley Carter haunts as the Soothsayer, skittering across the stage while chanting mournful cries of unheard warnings.
As Munby’s riveting production draws to a bloody, intense close, may we all learn how to heed the warnings ahead of us, but also do a little fact-checking before, you know, stabbing an elected official.
“Julius Caesar” plays through March 24 at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. More info here >