Writer: William Shakespeare
Adaptor/Director: Jeff Wise
Reviewer: Adrienne Sowers
A braggart rises to power by utilizing his public persona to win over city after city, making his way to the capital and leaving a trail of destroyed lives in his wake. No, it’s not the 2016 presidential election. It’s 49 BCE. The Wheelhouse Theatre’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar taps into the zeitgeist of the current American political landscape using a concentrated version of Shakespeare’s politically charged text.
This production, helmed by Jeff Wise, uses the simplicity of a blackbox space and cast of six to its advantage in its succinct 90-minute running time. The specificity of intent and clarity of language makes the playing of multiple characters by each cast member seamless, which is quite a feat considering that many are juggling upwards of three characters. A bold, simplistic color palette of black, white, and red (with occasional bits of gold), creates a stark yet malleable environment for this talented ensemble to build the narrative before the audience’s eyes.
Wise has devised a Julius Caesar that builds and rebuilds upon itself, much like the city of Rome must do from leader to leader. The pliable nature of the cast, and their on-a-dime character changes, lend to a constant feeling of evolutionary adaptation and survival of the fittest. The metaphor breathes through every moment of the action without providing such glare as to distract from the terrifying beauty that is the central focus of the play, i.e. the question as to whether it is possible to rise to power without succumbing to a certain degree of corruption.
The latter half of the play, outlining the power struggle between Ben Mehl’s Marc Antony and Matt Harrington’s Brutus, touches on the plodding side. Though compellingly performed by both actors, the script lacks the sharp, unrelenting clarity of the earlier portion. With a touch more momentum, the cyclical nature of this particular adaptation could pack a gut-wrenching punch, but even with the lag in the second half, Wheelhouse Theatre’s Julius Caesar leaves the audience haunted and turning a critical eye toward the state of their own union.
Runs until March 13, 2016