|The Cast of Circus Maximus|
Ms. Oberlin’s stellar performance is just one of several that hit the target in this open-air, very public setting. Chief among these is Caius Cassius, the ringleader of the conspirators. Hunter Scott MacNair exudes nervous tension and an edginess that prohibits his standing still for more than a few seconds as he hammers away at Brutus to join in over-throwing Caesar. His venom finds its target step-by-step in an initially reluctant Brutus. With eyes demonically red and a neck that increasingly matches the same hue, he is like the serpent at Eden’s apple tree, putting ideas into the mind of Brutus who has the stature and power to give his deadly plot final and full legitimacy.
As Marcus Brutus, Joseph Schommer is tempered and deeply contemplative but also clearly tortured in his thinking and deliberation of what to do about the signs in his beloved Caesar that trouble him. He speaks with some agony in voice and with increasing resolve as he makes the decision that is firming up in his mind to join the conspirators. That inner battle and sense of lingering doubt never quite leaves him, even up until that final knife plunge he makes into Caesar. The terrified, horrified look on this face when he hears “Et tu, Brute” is one haunting to behold.
Also memorable in performance is Chris Steele as Casca, a roaming, always smiling reporter who constantly records what others are saying (including audience members he interviews in the opening festival). He has the manner of a gossip as he talks to his fellow conspirators, Cassius and Brutus, and often cackles almost wildly through his toothy grin, usually at times when laughing does not seem that appropriate. Full of many feats of facial gymnastics, Mr. Steele is a delight as the evil but likable Casca.
|Libby Oberlin & Lauren Hayes|
While few in number and few lines allotted them by Shakespeare, the women of the production (that is, those who play traditional female parts) leave their lasting impressions. As Portia, Britt Lauer’s fingers stiffen as do the veins in her neck as she pleads with her husband Brutus in a look of deadly fright not to join the conspirators. As Calpurnia, Lauren Hayes is at first the trophy wife of Julius Caesar who flaunts all she has for her wife and for the cheering crowds; but when she hears and consults with the Soothsayer, she becomes ghostly in her appearance as she clearly senses with all her being the upcoming doom of her wife. After the assassination, she remains in the background for several scenes, going into silent, weeping spasms in a huddled mound on the Senate steps. Watching her becomes a mini-scene of sorrow and regret all to itself.
One of the touches of Director Ava Roy that works best is the use of pauses in action – periods when characters retreat to far off parts while we are left to contemplate the lines we have just heard. At other times, we walk in silence as we pass frozen, statue-like bodies with heads covered in red silk, allowing us more time to consider the events just past and the ones we know are coming next. Ghosts and legacies of the past deeds also play major, background parts as the acts count away in shadowy ways haunting and beautiful – more of Ava Roy’s artistic touches that add meaning to the powerful script.
A play written so long ago about an event and time even further back in history is today a wake-up call for the modern audience. Democracy based on public opinion and vote is not an automatic path to being a great or sustained nation. Leaders and citizens alike must be diligent in whom to believe and in how their opinions are formed. Tyranny is always possible, but so is nobility. The choice becomes ours. We Players provides us an immersive experience of Caesar Maximus that becomes full of wake-up warning, packed with implied questions we each need to consider critically as we read tomorrow’s headlines or tonight’s Tweets.
Rating: 5 E
Caesar Maximus continues through September 30, 2018 at the Music Concourse, Golden Gate Park. Tickets are available online at www.weplayers.org.