Julius Caesar Review – The Fine Line between Tyranny and Freedom

Gerald C. Rivers, Mark Lewis, Franc Ross, and Christopher W. Jones in JULIUS CAESAR - Photo by Ian Flanders

Remember the prophetic “Ides of March?” Theatricum Botanicum is back on stage after a year of silence offering possible political prophesy. Now that the pandemic seems to be winding down, the 2021 summer repertory season, sponsored by the S. Mark Taper Foundation, opens with Shakespeare’s JULIUS CAESAR. But this is a slightly different version of Shakespeare’s classic. In a script gently massaged by co-director Ellen Geer – so that the iconic tale is now told from the perspective of the Soothsayer (Gerald C. Rivers) – JULIUS CAESAR demonstrates yet again just how timely Shakespeare can be.

Franc Ross, Patrick Olsen, Melora Marshall, Mark Lewis, Tim Frangos, and Christopher W. Jones – Photo by Ian Flanders

Shakespeare’s play recounts the story of senator and war hero Julius Caesar – a man who may or may not have had designs on becoming king – and the beginning of the end for Rome. Even though Caesar (Mark Lewis) has refused the crown offered three times by an adoring public, there are those who doubt his sincerity and decide to take matters in their own hands. When Cassius (Melora Marshall) approaches Caesar’s closest friend Brutus (Christopher W. Jones), the honorable Brutus questions the motives of the conspirators, including Casca (Franc Ross) and Marcellus (Max Lawrence). Eventually, however, Brutus is convinced that Caesar represents a danger to democracy and joins the group. Power and politics have never been more compelling than in this Shakespearean play, which may remind audience members of some very contemporary issues.

Christopher W. Jones and Willow Geer – Photo by Ian Flanders

As co-directors Ellen Geer and Willow Geer opine: “We want to draw attention to the timeliness of the play – to how history repeats itself – without updating it or making any other significant changes…Shakespeare’s story about the fall of Rome is a microcosm of our own society…a group of wealthy senators takes over a democratic government they think is going in the wrong direction…the citizens are not consulted…(and) have no say.”

The Conspirators – Photo by Ian Flanders

The current production of JULIUS CAESAR runs for 80 minutes without an intermission and pinpoints the key message in the piece: the nature of truth is elusive and may be so nuanced that different eyes perceive a different truth. As always, the cast does an excellent job of conveying the tale under the direction of two very experienced old hands at dealing with the Bard. The production crew works its creative magic on the hills and foliage that constitute the outdoor stage. Kudos to Zach Moore (lighting), Grant Escandon (sound), Tracy Wahl (costumes), and all the other helpers and volunteers who turn Theatricum Botanicum into an artistic success.

Christopher W. Jones and Max Lawrence – Photo by Ian Flanders

JULIUS CAESAR runs through 10/30/21, with performances at 4 p.m. on Saturday (10/16 and 10/30) and Sunday (7/18, 9/12, 9/26, 10/3) and at 7:30 p.m. on Friday (8/20), Saturday (7/24 and 8/14), and Sunday (8/29, 9/5, 9/19, 10/10, and 10/24). Tickets range from $10 to premium seating for $60. Friday night performances are Pay-What-You-Will. Will Geer’s Theatricum Botanicum is located at 1419 North Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga. For information and reservations, call 310-455-3723 or go online.

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