Shakespeare’s most political play, JULIUS CAESAR, is now performing at the Independent Shakespeare Studio (ISC) in Atwater Village. Co-directed by David Melville and Melissa Chalsma, the play gives you the opportunity to consider how political manipulation and mob mentality affect you.
In the Bard’s story, a group of conspirators convinces Caesar’s friend, Brutus, to kill Caesar before he amasses too much power and establishes a monarchy. Caesar’s assassination happens on the Ides of March (March 15), followed by Marc Antony’s sorrowful mourning and his eventual fight against the traitors. Brutus ends up killing himself, and Marc Antony is left to rule over Rome.
At ISC, JULIUS CAESAR is told by 10 actors, aided by the audience, which, without realizing it, soon becomes an additional cast member. Electronic screens flash the words that the audience is supposed to chant, at the precise moment it’s supposed to do it – chants in support of Brutus, Marc Antony, or in rebuke of the traitors, for example. Such immersion into the action underlines the meaning of the most brilliant moments of this play – the monologues by Brutus (played beautifully by Faqir Hassan) and Marc Antony (outstandingly performed by Sam Breen), which are given during Caesar’s funeral. Their speeches are delivered directly to the audience, which finds itself captivated and swayed in either direction by the proficient orators.
What is most amazing is that when the moment of chanting in support of the orators arrives, you realize that your brain has already taken a side… but now you also feel the pressure of complying with the flashing screens, and with the chanting of the audience as a group. Turns out that such incongruent sensation is precisely what the directors of the production wanted to explore – the things we determine, and will do, as individuals; placed against how much we allow ourselves to be manipulated, and are willing to give into, as part of a group.
Shakespeare’s message in JULIUS CAESAR is clear as water in this production, which is also inspired on a 1937 edition of an Orson Welles’s Mercury Theatre production. It will send you home wondering whether it is better to do the right thing for the wrong reasons, or the wrong thing for the right reasons, and whether, if pressed, you would choose man or country. Tremendously thought-provoking and delivered by a terrific cast, JULIUS CAESAR is certainly worth seeing.
Tickets are $30 / students $15; available at iscla.org. The play is performed Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 pm; and Sundays at 2 pm, through May 11, 2019.
The ISC Studio is located inside the Atwater Crossing Arts + Innovation Complex, at 3191 Casitas Avenue, Suite 130, Los Angeles CA 90039. The play is two hours long, including one intermission.