A quick paced, enthralling Julius Caesar has begun its tour of local venues through the Wooden O’ Free Shakespeare in the Parks program. At a matinee in Volunteer Park, the all women cast crackled with energy despite having to deal with temperatures that hovered near 90 degrees.
It is fascinating to watch the show’s political machinations and power plays unfold without a male on stage. The unique casting added some interesting shading in the interactions between Caesar and his senators and was most effective in highlighting the complex relationship between the scheming Cassius and the noble Brutus who “loves honor more than he fears death.” Amy Thone, who has done outstanding work with upstart crow collective and Suzanne Bouchard portray these two Roman conspirators and handle the challenges of playing such a difficult venue with aplomb. The two characters work their way from secretive assassins to full out battling revolutionaries and their uneasy alliance is the lynchpin of the production.
Director Vanessa Miller has a chariot full of clever ideas to keep the play entertaining and surprising throughout. The opening victory celebration uses the entire playing area as jubilant Romans cavort in, around and through the audience. Cell phones, I-pads, bullhorns and laptops bring the political intrigue right into our century though some of Kelly McDonald’s costuming had hints of earlier historical periods.
Most impressive was the work of sound designer Evan Mosher. The amplified dialogue was easy to hear throughout the park and the sounds of rain, thunder and war were quite effective. Tonya Andrews in the role of the Soothsayer so worried about the Ides of March, chants nearly all of her lines accompanied by eerie chords and melody lines composed by Christian Duhmale. The Soothsayer’s prophecies were presented in free form dances created by Crystal Dawn Munkers.
Playing Marc Antony, it was Terri Weagant’s job to recite some of the Bard’s most well known lines. She was more than up for the task as she hit a number of strikingly original notes, even in the “Friends, Romans, Countrymen Address” at Caesar’s funeral. Therese Diekhans played the confident Julies Caesar; was I the only one who was reminded just a bit of Hilary Clinton? Meg Mclynn was cast as Brutus’ wife Portia and later as his battlefield adversary, Octavius. She was a standout in both roles.
The play was skillfully edited and comes in well under two hours without an intermission. That such a quality package is laid out for free throughout the Puget Sound is really a wonderful summer treat for Northwest theatergoers of all ages. Julius Caesar runs in tandem with The Two Gentlemen of Verona through August 10. Donations are accepted at all performances. For more information on dates and locations go to www.seattleshakespeare.org/woodeno.