Reviewed by James Karas
The Stratford Festival’s production of Julius Caesar strives to make its gender-blind casting obvious by assigning many of the play’s male roles to women. Seana McKenna has proven that properly directed she can do a superb Lear and thus casting her as Julius Caesar made eminent sense. But is there a point in having Octavius, Mark Antony, Cassius, Trebonius, Flavius and others played by women? I don’t think so.
Director Scott Wentworth has chosen a deliberate, at times ponderous pace for the delivery of Shakespeare’s lines. Movement is kept to a minimum at times and I felt that the production resembled more a recital than a fully staged affair. At times the actors could have stood behind lecterns and read out their lines without any further ado.
Seana McKenna (left) as Julius Caesar and Michelle Giroux as Mark Antony with members of the company. Photography by David Hou.
In keeping with Wentworth’s approach, McKenna’s Caesar does not display much of his obnoxious arrogance that would justify an honorable man like Brutus to rise to rebellion and assassination. Jacklyn Francis does excellent work as Calpurnia and is very convincing when she tries to dissuade Caesar from going to the senate. His overconfidence and arrogance appear in the text but McKenna is not allowed to display it.
Sophia Walker as Octavius and Michelle Giroux as Mark Antony are good actors cast to play male roles to no great effect. Julius Caesar is a clash of male egos and having a mixture of men and women play them adds nothing to the production.
In his striving to make sure we get the text pronounced properly, Wentworth goes overboard. The most famous three words in Shakespeare may be Caesar’s shocked statement to Brutus (Jonathan Goad) when he sees his beloved friend stab him: Et tu, Brute. Wentworth wants to get two iambs from these words and he puts the accent on the second syllable of Brutus. It sounds silly.
When Brutus is arguing with Cassius and he tries to explain his reaction to his friend Brutus says “No man bears sorrow better. Portia is dead.” These are two sentences and there should be a pause between them to emphasize the terrible event in Brutus’s life. Jonathan Goad says the line without any pause as if there is no punctuation at all.
Jonathan Goad as Marcus Brutus with members of the company. Photography by David Hou.
Costumes were mostly traditional 16th century clothes. Ruffs, wool caps, doublets, capes and the rest. That is all well until we see the senators who are wearing all of those things but have a sheet wrapped around them to resemble a toga. The opposing armies are differentiated by one side wearing Roman helmets with the red plumes on top while the other side wears traditional helmets.
There are a few fine moments but by the end of the evening all one remembered were the unsatisfactory parts and a very disappointing production.
Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare opened on August 16 and will run in repertory until October 27, 2018 at the Festival Theatre, Stratford, Ontario. www.stratfordfestival.ca