A history of violence: A bare-bones ‘Julius Caesar’ looks at brutality • Brooklyn Paper

A history of violence: A bare-bones ‘Julius Caesar’ looks at brutality

Getting to the point: Actors Stephen Michael Spencer and Jordan Barbour rehearse their fighting moves for the bloody upcoming production of “The Tragedy of Julius Caesar” at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center, opening on March 17.
Elena Olivo

Friends, Romans, Brooklynites — lend us your ears!

A new production of Shakespeare’s “The Tragedy of Julius Caesar” offers the ever-timely advice that stabbing your political opponents may not be the best way to get what you want. The modern-dress staging of the more-than-400-year-old play, which starts its run at Theatre for a New Audience’s Polonsky Shakespeare Center in Fort Greene on March 17 — just after the ominous ides of March — considers the social cost of leaders who live by the sword, according to its director.

“The act of violence, that was an attempt to protect Rome and their Republic and their ideals, set in motion a civil war that destroys everything they were fighting for — that’s why I really think about the play as a meditation on the cost of governing through violence” said Shana Cooper.

The five-act play, likely written in 1599, follows the downfall of Roman ruler Julius Caesar, whose victory in a civil war wins him the love of Rome’s citizens, who offer him unlimited political power for life. But before Casear can accept that offer, a group of conspirators — led by his close friend, Brutus — assassinate him, plunging Rome into yet another civil war.

The director emphasizes the effects of violence through the play’s climactic battle scene, where she adds martial arts and dance moves to Shakespeare’s intimate conversations between soldiers. The movements allow the performers to more fully express the trauma and tragedy of fighting in battle, Cooper said.

“It felt useful to strip away Shakespeare’s language that is trying to conjure the civil war and replace it with a visceral, physical storytelling of war,” she said.

The show runner also added some literally haunting appearances from Caesar after his death, with his ghost looming over multiple moments of the production in order to emphasize his absence, she said.

“We’ve created a couple moments where he, I think in quite a disturbing way, appears out of nowhere and then disappears really quickly — all through simple theater magic,” Cooper said.

The role of the citizens in the play is just as important as that of Caesar, because their actions inadvertently spur his downfall, said the director, and the story demonstrates the power of the people.

“I think the biggest lesson of the story is the role we all play, in not simply who we choose to be our leader, but also how we choose to run our country,” she said. “Shakespeare very firmly puts that choice in our hands — not in the hands of one single leader.”

“Julius Caesar” at Polonsky Shakespeare Center (262 Ashland Pl. between Fulton Street and Lafayette Avenue in Fort Greene, (866) 811–4111, www.tfana.org). Previews start March 17 at 7:30 pm. Official opening March 28; Tue–Sun at 7:30 pm through April 28, Weekend matinees at 2 pm starting on March 30. $90–$115 ($20 students and those under 30).

Reach reporter Julianne McShane at (718) 260–2523 or by e-mail at jmcshane@schnepsmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @juliannemcshane.

More from Around New York