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IU Theatre’s “Julius Caesar” portrays classic in new light


The cast of "Julius Caesar" poses for a photo on the stage where the production will take place. The play will run at the Ruth N. Halls Theatre from Jan. 19 to 27. Tickets are $10 for students and $20 for the general public. Courtesy Photo Buy Photos

Four hundred and nineteen years after its first production, IU Theatre’s production of “Julius Caesar” breaks conventions.

“Caesar is a woman,” Tess Cunningham, the actress who plays Decia, said. 

“Julius Caesar” runs at the Ruth N. Halls Theatre from Jan. 19 to 27. Tickets are $10 for students and $20 for the general public.

Shakespeare’s tragedy, first performed in 1599, tells the story of political conspirators attempting to overthrow the ancient Roman leader, Caesar, and the aftermath of the event.

“The specific things that the director is trying to focus on, at least for the character I’m playing, are the differences in rhetoric,” Michael Bayler, actor playing Brutus, said. “How we address crowds and our peers, those sorts of things.”

Under the creative direction of director Jenny McKnight, this particular production is more than just another Shakespeare play, Tess Cunningham, actress playing Decia, said.

“I am the only female senator,” Cunningham said. “She spliced some roles together and created new people. There are a lot more females in the play than are originally allowed.”

The set has dilapidated Roman columns and sharp plexiglass structures. Longer character monologues are cut in favor of silhouette shows against a black background curtain that conveys the same information visually.

“You’re watching the attempted crowning of Caesar and you’re watching the battles happen in the background,” Cunningham said. “We were able to cut down a lot of the really dense text that way.”

Stairs run down from the stage to the seating aisles, where characters occasionally perform in. When persuaders, such as Brutus and Mark Antony attempt to persuade their local conspirators and people of Rome, they turn to address the audience.

“The show has so many speeches that are addressed straight out to the audience just by nature,” Cunningham said. “There’s a lot of persuasion, and maybe even manipulation, but largely persuasion.”

Another point of ambiguity is in the more modern character clothing, Cunningham said.

“The costumes are more modern, and so Caesar has a cape and people have sashes,” Cunningham said. “I’m in a pantsuit, but I also have a cloak. You’re not really sure where you are, and it could be anything.”

The ambiguous tone of the show lets audience members take the action for what it is, Bayler said.

“They can have whatever reaches out to them affect them in their own way,” Bayler said.

Despite changes to the script, the show still retains Shakespeare’s voice and writing style.

“The language is so wonderfully written, but the great thing about the process is to understand the language and how that works,” Bayler said. “The memorization comes naturally because the words feel like your own thoughts.”

Between the unorthodox casting, anachronistic setting, cuts and changes, seeing another production of Julius Caesar like this one is unlikely, Cunningham said.

“This is something that people can really engage with because of the way we’re displaying it and because of those little changes that have been made,” Cunningham said. “I want it to be something people can really open themselves up and allow themselves to engage with.”

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