Theater Review: Trinity Shakespeare’s Julius Ceasar Is No Dry, Historical Dramatization

Reading Julius Caesar in school represents many students’ first taste of Shakespeare. And those memories may reflect a dry dramatization of Roman history, or a captivating look at political intrigue punctuated by incredible language. In any case, a properly executed staging of this great tragedy seldom fails to captivate even the most jaded theatergoer.

What better way to see it than at the ever-excellent Trinity Shakespeare Festival and in the gifted hands of director Stephen Fried (Much Ado About Nothing, Macbeth, and The Merchant of Venice)? Fried provides a bloody, pensive counterpoint to the festival’s other play, the candy-colored The Taming of the Shrew.

From the first look at Brian Clinnin’s magnificent set of a large Roman frieze and marble steps to the rousing funeral oration, the thrilling fight scenes (Brandon Sterrett), and gory resolution one is immersed in this fascinating world upon the stage.

Shakespeare’s most popular Roman play is a plot-driven cornucopia of famous speeches and direct language that soars in the mouths of an outstanding ensemble. At first glance, casting the comedic David Coffee as the titular dictator appears to be a mistake; however, he infuses the character with a frail, yet fatherly gravitas that adds even more fatalism to his assassination. Every other actor also brings his or her A-game. Standouts include Alex Organ’s heroic Mark Antony. Organ is able to bring out the slippery ambition and ambiguity of Caesar’s most loyal follower quite well. Richard Haratine as the conflicted Marcus Brutus is a revelatory, pensive force. Steven Pounders’ turn as Caius Cassius is scorching, Trisha Miller’s Calphurnia is a regal vision, and Jenny Ledel as Portia is a fiery, inquisitive presence that makes one long to see her character more.

The effort to learn and perform two plays in repertory is a formidable challenge, and the fact that the actors all do it so superbly is just one reason among many that Trinity represents the very best in local theater. Ethan Steimel’s moody lights, Toby Jaguar Algya’s arresting sound, and Aaron Patrick DeClerk’s authentic-looking costumes complete the classical setting of the play.

You may think you already love Julius Caesar, or that you cannot be bothered to see another straight-forward production, but Trinity shows us (once again) that appearances are deceptive.

Photo by Amy Peterson