NOTE: Since publishing, it has come to Bwog’s attention that this review only covered the first half of the play. Bwog sincerely regrets the error.

Bwog’s Shakespeare Under the Stars Expert Julia Mix Barrington turned out last night for King’s Crown Theatre Troupe’s production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and returns this report.  Caesar‘s final performance is tonight at 8 PM.

If you’re facing the dilemma of whether or not to show up at Low Steps for KCST’s production of Julius Caesar, the answer is clear:  go.  The show’s deftly-executed concept creates a more-than-memorable experience and makes up for bombastic acting from all sides—for an hour or so, at least.

Until the play begins to flag, it’s truly glorious.  The director, Dan Blank, has a genius for mise en scène; first the milling crowd finds itself mildly captivated by the show’s Plebeian ensemble—a marketplace—milling and seething in front to Low only to be taken by surprise as Caesar, his entire retinue, some witches, and a small marching band stride in from behind to shouts of “make way!”  Blank writes that he “wanted the audience to realize the relevance for themselves,” but I’d argue that what’s actually effected is a time-machine-perfect transformation of the audience of 150-odd Columbians into a true and volatile turba worthy of any of the Seven Hills of Rome. 

This magic trick continues to amaze for the next few “stops” of the play:  the ensemble, banging trash cans and flashing strobe lights, ushers you through an impressive storm; plotters cast huge and ominous shadows over the brick of St. Paul’s; the semi-circle of audience and the trees in the inexplicable “garden” outside Schermerhorn delicately demarcate Brutus’s house, creating a sense of intimacy suitable to the dialogue’s talk of secrets. 

Unfortunately, it was around this scene that I stopped wondering at my transformation into a Roman and started paying attention to the acting.  A great concept can only take a show so far, and Caesar’s performances don’t have the power to carry the show after the novelty wears off.  There’s an air of contrivance and a sense of grasping to each scene which doesn’t mesh with the supreme realism—or at least consummate efficacy—of the traveling, open-air play.  The problem with this Caesar is that it’s around three hours long, and, with no outstanding performances to sustain it, the novelty of feeling yourself a part of the Roman mob wears off as quickly as your pre-gaming buzz, leaving you cold, bored, a little confused, and with very sore feet.  As Brutus’s fortunes wane, so does the crowd’s attention (I saw people slipping away even before Caesar was dead), and the clot of die-hards who witness Philippi is much smaller than the vast horde who started out hours before.

That’s the end, however.  The captivating opening is by far a different story, and for its sake, go to see Julius Caesar—it’s an experience you don’t want to miss.  Think of it, however, less as Shakespeare and more as the ham-fisted replica that’s a Renaissance Fair: completely fun and absorbing, but only for a finite amount of time.  See Caesar, by all means, but don’t be surprised when you don’t feel like staying too long.

 -review and photo by JPMB