Julius Caesar trumps with modern political allusions

An ambitious, ego-driven politician arouses public fear that he will rule as a tyrant. While there’s no orange comb-over in sight in Bard on Bower’s gripping version of Julius Caesar, now playing on the outdoor stage at Bower Ponds, Donald Trump and the U.S. presidential race came to mind while watching the on-stage intrigue unfold.

An ambitious, ego-driven politician arouses public fear that he will rule as a tyrant.

While there’s no orange comb-over in sight in Bard on Bower’s gripping version of Julius Caesar, now playing on the outdoor stage at Bower Ponds, Donald Trump and the U.S. presidential race came to mind while watching the on-stage intrigue unfold.

In this Prime Stock Theatre production, directed by Thomas Usher, suspicion and mistrust divide cohorts who are supposed to be close supporters of Julius Caesar. Some of these polarized politicians lie to cover up their own self-serving agendas as they play to the crowd.

Commoners are easily led by political deception. Swayed by a manipulative speaker, the people of Rome begin to think and act as a mob.

That a 400-year-old play about power, politics and human frailty can still conjure up contemporary associations shows Julius Caesar is one for the ages.

Although the first act of the Bard on Bower vehicle is more riveting than the second, the drama contains one of William Shakespeare’s sharpest and most thought-provoking scripts. At one point, Brutus compares Caesar to a serpent’s egg, suggesting it’s morally justifiable to kill a potential threat “in the shell” in order to spare the world its “mischief.”

Later, Caesar’s wife Calpurnia warns her spouse, “Wisdom is consumed in confidence” — sage advice about cocky or complacent overconfidence that should be heeded by many a modern politician.

Considering when it was written, Julius Caesar contains fairly straight-shooting dialogue that can be deciphered by modern listeners — even those of us who’ve never studied the play in school or previously seen it performed.

For this, laurels must also be laid at the feet of Usher and his excellent cast. This is the best group of actors Bard on Bower has assembled. Not a single cast member rushes through any speeches. Every line is clearly spoken. And every actor knows the exact meaning of the dialogue and gets it across to the audience.

Particular standouts are Eric Pettifor’s rather fatherly portrayal of Julius Caesar, Nate Rehman’s Machiavellian Cassius, and Brock Beal’s co-conspirator Casca.

Armine Karame portrays Brutus as a complicated, well-meaning man who becomes mired in moral ambiguity when he decides loyalty to his country is grounds for the supreme betrayal of a friend.

Tara Rorke plays Brutus’s intense wife, Portia, while Brooke Dalton depicts Caesar’s concerned spouse, Calpurnia. Sarah Spicer is the soothsayer, who tries to warn Caesar of the fate that awaits him, but is ignored.

Isiah Williams’ Mark Antony enacts some delicious political trickery by turning a crowd against the conspirators who assassinate Caesar. Through epic use of irony in his famous speech at Caesar’s funeral, Antony pulls one over on the good people of Rome — as well as Brutus et al.

The biggest problem is that Caesar is murdered before the end of the first act. This leaves the second act to play out on the battlefield when various soldiers, caught up in a civil war of sorts, throw themselves on their swords after losing skirmishes.

This sounds more exciting than it actually is because, with few exceptions, Bard on Bower cast members need to get much more proficient at stage combat to actually make extended battle scenes thrilling.

Otherwise, the play’s great acting, swift pacing, and spectacular costumes (including shiny armour and cool, brush-topped Roman helmets like the one sported by the space alien from Looney Tunes) make it a must-see — especially for political junkies or students of human nature.

Julius Caesar continues its run at 7 p.m. on July 24 and 28, and at 2 p.m. on July 23 and 30. Bring lawn chairs, a blanket and bug spray. Admission is by donation ($20 suggested).

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com