by Lynn on September 2, 2018

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Withrow Park, Toronto, Ont. (between the two mighty trees)

Written by Kaitlyn Riordan and William Shakespeare (I love that juxtaposition in the writing credit)

Directed by Eva Barrie

Designed by Rachel Forbes

Lighting by Jareth Li

Sound and composition by Miquelon Rodriguez

Cast: Deborah Drakeford

Nikki Duval

Christine Horne

Jahnelle Jones-Williams

Kwaku Okyere

Troy Sarju

Sienna Singh

Adriano Sobretodo Jr.

Giovanni Spina

Tahirih Vejdani

Jeff Yung

Kaitlyn Riordan’s bold re-interpretation of Julius Caesar with the women firmly in power making the various decisions while the men go about screwing things up.

The Story. Ok, Shakespeare’s story is that crowds are easily swayed and duped into believing what a few good manipulators want them to believe. Julius Caesar is either a great warrior and cares about his people or he’s ambitious and should be killed for it. Several senators believe the latter and get Brutus, the noblest Roman of all, to come into their plot to kill Caesar in the Senate house.

Caesar’s wife Calpurnia didn’t want him to go (“Julie, don’t go.” Those over 50 will know what this means). He ignores her. A soothsayers says, “Beware the Ides of March” (March 15) presumably the day Caesar is meant to go to the Senate. Caesar ignores him too. The results of course are that Caesar is stabbed in the Senate—well, really he was stabbed all over his body, but you know what I mean.

Kaitlyn Riordan’s take on Shakespeare’s play is that women have the smarts to know how the world works and how to avoid the pitfalls. Because there are so few major roles for women in Shakespeare’s plays Riordan decided to put some in or at least flesh out the small women’s roles here so that they have a more substantial voice. Riordan says in her program note that she used dialogue from 17 of Shakespeare’s plays, four sonnets and one poem to make up the speeches of the women. Lines from Hamlet  and Richard III had me chuckling in recognition and for the chutzpah.

Do you think Coriolanus’ Mother )Volumnia) is ballsy? Wait until you see Servilla, Brutus’ Mom in action. Servilla knows how to read the political landscape of Rome and pushes and prods her son to grab his chance to lead. She also knows how to manipulate others to get what she wants. Servilla doesn’t have much affection for Portia, Brutus’ wife, who always seems to have her baby in her arms. Calpurnia, Caesar’s anxious wife, desperate to give him a son, also knows the political landscape and fears for her husband. There is even a meeting between Calpurnia and Cleopatra (Caesar and Cleopatra as you will recall had a ‘thing’ years before). Turning the story on it’s head so that women get to speak and voice their opinions here is wildly imaginative, perceptive and provocative.

The Production. The play takes place in the magical Withrow Park, between two beautiful trees. Rachel Forbes has decorated the space with banners on spears in the distance that suggests the Roman court etc. There is a covering on the ground suggesting the emblem of Rome as well. Costumes are flowing robes/togas etc. Furnishings etc. are spare and simple.

Eva Barrie’s staging is brisk, efficient and she uses the space of the park with flair. There is such a sense of urgency in the production that seems so appropriate. Deborah Drakeford plays Servilla with an icy stare and a fierce conviction. You don’t mess with this woman if you are smart. Calpurnia is played with heightened emotion by Nikki Duval who brings all the longing and passion to the role of a woman who feels forgotten and desperate to save her husband. Christine Horne also gives Portia a certain passion and concern for her husband Brutus. Kwaku Okyere as Cassius and others has great energy but could tone down his enthusiasm a bit so he won’t seem so over-wrought.

The entire enterprise is presented with total conviction. Terrific effort with lots to think about.

Shakespeare in the Ruff presents:

Plays until Sept. 3, 2018.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes, approx.

Pay What You Can.  Bring a blanket to sit on.

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