There’s no surprise that the number of contemporary takes on William Shakespeare’s plays are legion. Shakespeare’s plots are as applicable today as they were in his time of the late 1500s, early 1600s.
In “Julius Caesar,” at Chicago Shakespeare Theater now through March 24, 2013, we see a political plot and ramifications that could take place almost anywhere in the world at any time.
CST’s Caesar sets the action of conspiracy, revenge and ambition in a Rome where politicians have presidential-style security guards, tourists have cell phones and armies have gas masks and machine guns.
British actor John Light as Brutus, New York actor Jason Kolotouros as Caius Cassius and Canada’s Stratford regular, Dion Johnstone as Marc Antony, brilliantly interpret Shakespeare’s insight of human foibles and fears.
Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” reminds that the desire for democracy to replace tyranny is often followed by another form of tyranny as Antony joins with Octavius to say who shall live and who shall die.
Under British director Jonathan Munby, audiences are made aware that crowds can be swayed by political rhetoric at the show’s start and incited to riot as they deliberately were by Antony’s famed “Friends, Romans, countrymen lend me your ears…….The evil men do lives after them” speech.
Given the unrest, wars and rebellions that have happened throughout history and today, Shakespeare’s original, “The Tragedy of Julius Caesar,” about a political plot to assassinate a Roman ruler could be set anywhere. However, Rome is needed to stay true to Shakespeare’s Caesar and Roman references.
Alexander Dodge’s simple marble and stone looking set design is reminiscent of a “Julius Caesar” staging done decades ago in England’s Stratford on Avon. In the case of “Julius Caesar” less is definitely better.
The only issue I had with the production was the portrayal of Octavius as a stiff, World War II Axis-style general because it was too much of a contrast to the other actors’ portrayals and disrupted the show’s otherwise fluid action.
Details: Tickets, $58-$78, discounted $20 for under age 35, Navy Pier 40 percent parking garage discount. Running time 2 ½ hours includes intermission. For tickets and more information call 312-595-5600 and visit Chicago Shakespeare.
Chicago Shakespeare Theater is on Navy Pier at 800 E. Grand Ave., Chicago, IL 60611.