by Lynn on June 17, 2014

in The Passionate Playgoer

Julius Caesar

At the Red Sandcastle Theatre, 922 Queen St. E, Toronto.

Directed by Jennifer Parr
Set and Lighting by Rosemary Doyle
Costumes by Jan Venus
Sound by Morgan O’Leary
Françoise Balthazar
Catherine Bruce
Rosemary Doyle
Ellie Ellwand
Toni Ellwand
Elva Mai Hoover
Marcia Johnson
Llyandra Jones
Margaret Lamarre
Lise Maher
Andrea Verginella Paina
Maria Syrgiannis
Deborah Verginella
Trudy Weiss

An all female production done with imagination and conviction.

The Story. Julius Caesar comes back to Rome, triumphant in war. The people want to elevate him to King status. Caesar gets carried away with the accolades and takes them too much to heart. His former supporters think that this hubris is unacceptable and plan to kill him in the senate house. Lots of intrigue going on between those loyal to Caesar, (Marc Antony) and those who think he must be stopped (Marcus Brutus and his followers). Needless to say it doesn’t end well for a lot of people, Caesar included.

The Production. The Red Sandcastle Theatre is a wonderful pokey little space in which Rosemary Doyle, the quadruple force behind it, has created the set, the lighting, plays the Soothsayer, and greets us at the door and gives us the tickets.

Doyle has taken the theatre’s postage stamp stage and elongated it to accommodate the various armies fighting each other in battle. With simple set décor, draped material with a rich coloured sash hanging down a wall, miniature columns on the wall and a plaque or two she has suggested the grandeur of Rome. The audience does the rest of the work by imagining it.

Costume designer Jan Venus has taken simple modern t-shirts and pants, added detail here, a sash there, some military looking garb and again, suggested the trappings of a Roman army and rich senators (they had them even back then).

Director Jennifer Parr stages the cast of 14 with efficiency, economy and imagination. Some of her directorial ideas are dazzling. She takes an old idea and then improves upon it. In the scene when the murders have done their bloody deed and stabbed Caesar to death, they dip their hands in his blood. Each person draws a red strip of material from ‘out of the wound’ and then wraps the red strip and winds it around a hand. Voilá, a bloody hand. But then Marc Antony shakes hands with each murder’s bloody hand and as ‘he’ lets go of the hand gathers the red strip into ‘his’ own hand. When he is finished shaking all the hands of the murderers, Marc Antony’s hand is full of ‘blood’—the red strips. Terrific idea that illuminates the situation beautifully.

Morgan O’Leary adds an impressive soundscape with percussion that creates the wind, thunder, marching armies and tumult.

The company of 14 women is a mix of Canadian Actors’ Equity Association professionals and non-union actors, no less professional. That said, the quality of the acting varies. As the confident Julius Caesar, Trudy Weiss does not shove the hubris down our throats. Her Caesar’s hubris is not overt, but it is there. This is a contained, watchful performance with no doubt about the leadership abilities of its leader.

Françoise Balthazar as Caius Cassius brings a gravitas to the role and a facility with the language. You can see how Brutus is conflicted about his feelings for Julius Caesar in Toni Ellwand’s performance. When Brutus embraces Caesar, Ellwand hides a face creased with emotion, knowing what is about to happen. Brutus too is watchful, watching the rabble support Caesar and in a thrice, revile him.

Llyandra Jones initially brings a swagger to the part of Marc Antony. But in the “Friends, Romans, countrymen” speech the performance is humbled and slowly builds so that the people are compelled to listen and then rise up.

Comment. Why an all female production of Julius Caesar? Well why not? It’s a challenging exercise for a group of actresses, done with all seriousness, total commitment to the project, and the result is intriguing, clear and worth a look.

Produced by 16 Endean Collective.

Opened: June 11, 2014
Closes: June 22, 2014
Cast: 14 women
Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes.

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