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GroundlingTheatre Company and Crow’s Theatre offer a production of Julius Caesar that isoriginal, powerful, superbly directed and terrifically acted. It is done in thesmall Guloien Theatre on Carlaw Avenue which has been converted into atheatre-in-the-round that gives the play immediacy and muscle.

Theproduction is not entirely faithful to Shakespeare but most of the changes andadditions add to the effectiveness of the performance. It is done in moderndress and opens in a broadcast studio where they are reporting the return ofthe conqueror Caesar. The reporters give background about the holiday on whichCaesar returns (the Lupercalia) and generate the type of excitement andanticipation of a sports team’s cup victory parade. The scene in the originalplay with the tribunes Flavius and Marullus berating the commoners on thestreet is omitted with no great loss.

DirectorChris Abraham in fact does the entire play with eleven actors (some of the bestaround) who perform a couple of dozen roles out of the possible 49. He evenadds a couple of characters like Coriolanus and Felix. Diego Matamoros, forexample, handles five roles quite handily.

Thereare handguns and semi-automatics, heavily armed soldiers and a sense ofimmediacy that make the play appear new and exciting. And it is.  The presence of gums makes it necessary forCaesar to be shot instead of stabbed and here Abraham makes a choice about thefall of the great Roman.

Inthis production, Casca shoots first and Caesar falls down. The other assassinsdo the same. The last one to partake in the assassination is Brutus and Caesarutters the famous words “Et tu, Brute? Then fall, Caesar.” Brutus shoots Caesarwho is already on the ground. Would it not be preferable for Caesar to bestaggering after the first shots and then to stagger towards Brutus and realizethat his friend Brutus, the man who says he loves him, is part of the gang. Itis the ultimate expression of ingratitude and treachery. It is at this pointthat Caesar falls dead. What counts for him in the last moments of his life isnot the mortal wounds delivered by the politicians but the ultimate betrayal byhis friend.    

JimMezon as Caesar is supremely arrogant, extravagant and Mussolinian in hisshowmanship. People with common sense and respect for republican ideals findhis egomania unacceptable and getting rid of him appears like a good idea.

DionJohnstone plays the principled and upright Brutus. A superb portrayal of a manwho wants to save Rome from the ambition of a friend whom he happens to lovebut not as much as he loves Rome.

Theconniving, even slithery, Cassius is played by Moya O’Connell. She is a woman,of course, and the characterization of the jealous and envious person isbrilliant.

GrahamAbbey has all the attributes for a great Mark Antony. He has the athleticbuild, the forceful presence and the vocal intonation of the man who turns theRoman mob into a rebellious and destructive force.

SarahAfful deserves kudos for her performance in three very different roles. Sheplays Calpurnia, Caesar’s frightened wife, the conspirator Cinna and theegotistical Octavius who seems born to arrogance.

MichelleGiroux plays the marvelous wife of Brutus, Portia. She is a noble lady and asympathetic wife and Giroux performs her superbly. She also plays the minorroles of Popilius and Varro.    

WalterBorden lends his sonorous voice to several characters as do Jani Lauzon andRyan Cunningham with creditable results.

Theheads of animals worn for brief moments by some of the actors, did nothing forme. The sound effects by Thomas Ryder Payne and the Set and Lighting bu LorenzoSavoini were all dramatic and to the point. 

Theadditional writing by Zack Russell tightened Shakespeare’s text and was mostlypositive except for the bit at the end. The original play ends with amagnanimous and eloquent eulogy of Brutus by Mark Antony. He is talking abouthis enemy yet refers to him as “the noblest Roman of them all.” The sometimeschildish Octavius orders that Brutus be given an honourable burial befitting asoldier. They both strike notes of grace and that is where the play ends and soshould this exceptional production.      


Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare in a production byGroundling Theatre Company and Crow’s Theatre continues until February 2, 2020 atthe Streetcar Crowsnest Theatre, 345 Carlaw Avenue, Toronto, Ontario M4M 2T1.

January 31, 2020

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