The now renowned Repercussion Theater is offering Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Julius Caesar these days in Montreal parks.
The show at parc Jeanne-Mance this past weekend was lovely, delivered in the original prose written by Shakespeare — in fact it’s amazing how easily the audience actually gets accustomed to the 16th Century sentence structure!
Say I am merry: come to me again, and bring me word what he doth say to thee!
I have had the pleasure to see other plays offered by Repercussion Theatre, like The Taming of the Shrew in 2012, which was as delightful. But this year two noticeable changes caught my attention.
The first is an all-woman cast to portray mostly male characters, from Brutus to Caesar.
It takes about a minute to get used to the voices of women in male characters, but the audience quickly believes in the performances and forgets the gender dissonance. Artistic Director Amanda Kellock sees the choice as “an idea whose time has come.” Whereas characters had always been played by white men in Shakespeare’s time, like a “default ‘neutral’ canvas onto which the entirety of humanity was to be painted”, Kellock felt that the female casting choice would remove the limitations of the past. “The Bard would be very excited to see his worlds unfold and expand with even greater possibilities,” she says. In fact, the idea works seamlessly. The audience is led to the content of the play rather than to the players.
One of these players stood out for me immediately, however: Canadian stage and film actress Deena Aziz who played Brutus. Her studied delivery, punctuated by changes in stance, vocal variety, and relevant pauses, offered credibility to her character as the calculating but swaying political enemy who would cast the fatal blow to his friend Julius Caesar, in an organized coup. Aziz was an excellent casting choice because the play centers on the moral dilemma of Brutus, the character who is the most present on stage throughout the play and whose inner conflict between honor, love of nation and love of Caesar must be delivered with strength and nuance. Aziz sets the stage, so to speak.
If there be any in this assembly, any dear friend of Caesar’s,
To him I say, that Brutus’ love to Caesar was no less than his.
If then that friend demand why Brutus rose against Caesar, this is my answer:
Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more.
The second new element was the appearance of clip microphones on the actors. The sound engineer suggested that it may have been just for this performance, to offset the distraction of traffic on Avenue du Parc behind the audience. The result is that actors can deliver their lines with their backs turned to the audience, which would never be seen in a theatre or amphitheater setting. This really altered the ‘look and feel’ of the show, like a blend of theatre and sitcom recorded in front of a live audience.
The set and staging were brilliant: The corner of the stage protruded towards the center of the “house” like a square turned sideways, with entrances and exits on either side so as to engage the audience equally in three directions like in an amphitheater setting. The lighting was a bit sparse in the first act, but more focused in the second act, just after sunset. And scenes were neatly punctuated with drum beats by Boston University trained orchestral percussionist Catherine Varvaro on an array of percussions including a snare, two barrel drums, and a gong, from the upper tier of the stage.
The costumes created by Susana Vera were very different in the two acts. In the first: Simple white cloth Roman style toga, each differing slightly from the other, except for Caesar’s costume, which stood apart with a white cape that cleverly represented his body after the slaying in order to liberate the actress (award-winning Leni Parker seen at Centaur Theatre, Segal Center, Momentum, etc.). In the second act, the costumes took on a darker red hue that seemed to demonstrate the effect of guilt and the haunting presence of Caesar’s ghost in the minds of the assailants.
I love Repercussion Theatre. It is a quality team of dedicated artisans devoted to the Shakespearean art form made accessible to a wide audience. The troupe seems made up of happy actors and organizers who rely on about 50 equally happy volunteers.
Producers credit The Institute for the Public Life of Arts and Ideas, and Early Modern Conversions for help exploring the power of Shakespeare’s text. And I think we are all happy for it.
A glimpse of the “punch”.