Caesar, played by Lex Powell ’10, is stabbed in the back. He stumbles after his attacker, but is struck again and again. He is unable to remain standing under the force of the wounds, yet even when on the ground, he is desperate not to die. He pushes himself up with his arms, and then raises his head to look down the barrel of the gun pointed at his face. There is a pause, then he finally mutters: “Et tu, Brute?” Brutus, played by Macs Smith ’11, stands stock-still, unable to pull the trigger. Finally, Cassius, played by Grace Mendenhall ’13, steps in, pulling Caesar’s head back and sliding a knife across his throat.
Shakespeare in the Dark’s rendition of “Julius Caesar” will be performed Nov. 6, 7 and 8 in the Commonwealth Auditorium in the Sadler Center. It is the first of three performances this year.
Shakespeare in the Dark has implemented some changes to the original storyline in this rendition directed by Robin Parrish ’14 and CJ Bergin ’11, adding to the intensity of scenes such as Caesar’s death.
“[Julius Caesar is] set in a despotic republic, but we’re taking it out of the time period. It’s sort of like [George Orwell’s] ‘1984,’” Parrish said. “We’re also making some characters female, like Cassius, which definitely changes the dynamics of the relationships.”
Julius Caesar is a heavily male dominated play, with the lead female character, Portia, played by Francesca Chilcote ’11, only appearing in one and a half scenes.
“We have Cassius as a woman, and I think it’s going to be very interesting,” Chilcote said. “And it definitely means something that she’s a woman playing this role. We have not changed the text, though, which is interesting because it’s like her society isn’t even acknowledging her sex. She’s a strong woman, on her own merit.”
With Cassius as a powerful, manipulating woman, Shakespeare in the Dark’s rendition of Julius Caesar has a clear focus on power. They even use real knives during death scenes, allowing each actor holding a knife to appear that much powerful.
The decision to change the time period accounts for the use of a gun in Caesar’s death scene and for the fact that all the characters are dressed in formal business attire.
“I think the changes we’ve made are really interesting, and sometimes necessary for Shakespeare in the Dark, budget-wise,” Powell said. “But I think that shows that we can work within confines, which makes us a lot more original.”
The underlying story of power struggles and corruption is accentuated in this performance by the lack of a specific time period. This allows the focus to remain on the characters’ actions, rather than the setting.
“We’re dealing with an outside-of-time, hypothetical, Orwellian culture, and we’re taking that concept and running with it. There are no rules,” Chilcote, theatrical and staging advisor, said. “It’s very bare bones, so things that we would establish with set and lighting we have to instead establish with acting and costume and props.”
While clearly focused on power, the play’s lighter, comedic features give it a well-rounded effect. This is visible in the character of Publius, played by Greg Benson ’11.
“I started playing him as a sort of bemused moonchild who doesn’t really know what he’s gotten himself into,” Benson said. “It brings an element that you don’t really have in the original play, which is what happens to the people who get caught up in these power plays.”
There are some moments in which characters interact with the audience. During the famous speech given by Mark Antony, played by Nathan Sivak ’13, plebians actually sit with the audience, drawing attention yet again to the widespread effects of power.
“We’re doing really new and exciting things with it that aren’t typically done, and I think that has a lot to do with the fact that nobody is wearing a toga,” Chilcote said. “We’re taking it outside of Rome, and even beyond modernity. I think it’s very powerful if you say something about what is going on now, but also what was going on then, and what will always be going on. I think that’s where this setting finds its resonance.”