The Dogs of War

Decided to slack off a bit this week after all, and only see five shows instead of six.  Apologies all around, especially to the good folks at Tale Wagging Theatre, whose CRACKERS I ended up missing.  I just couldn’t talk myself into that kid-packed 95 bus ride back from Orleans on a Friday night.  Brrr.  Feel free to remount any old time (that doesn’t require time, planning or money, right..?).

But Bloggery blogs on, and I had a ticket booked for show #4 of the week last night.  And, when I finally managed to rather painfully extricate myself from the drudgery (note to every cook ever: if you’re slow on prep, I HATE you today), I hopped on the 95 (there’s no escaping it!) and headed on over to Centrepointe Theatre.  This was opening week for the second ever Ottawa Shakespeare Company production, and a long delayed one at that, JULIUS CAESER.  There was some serious buzz about this particular production heading in…it sounded like director and company co-founder Charles McFarland was pulling out all the stops to make this an evening to remember.  And in the end, it’s hard to argue with that.

Eugene Clark’s Caeser takes command.

You may have heard that the ticketing for this production is split into two groups each night…audience, or ‘participant’.  The participants are taken aside before the show  and coached in their roles, mostly consisting of being part of several raucous mob scenes, including the one that kicks the play off.  They later get to watch the stage action from the sidelines, or the balconies overlooking the staging area.  It’s a fun idea, and the gang looked like they were having a blast being part of the show.  It certainly added a pretty unique kind of energy to the proceedings.

The show itself, Billy Shakes’ epic about regicide and its down side (regicide is, like, TOTALLY frowned upon in some places), gets the usual McFarland update, visually setting it in modern times with lots of flair.  Gemini winner Eugene Clark headlines as Caeser himself, coming off nicely larger than life, a rockstar Caeser who rules by sheer force of charm and will.  At his side are loyal Mark Antony (Brad Long, who’s having quite the Shakespearean year after A MIDSUMMER NIGHTS DREAM and MACBETH), and slightly not-so-loyal Brutus (Mac Fyfe, a pretty impressive force on stage his own self).  Brutus is led into conspiracy against Caeser by the envious Cassius (Michael Mancini, very earnest in his scheming and lots of fun), along with a host of other plotters.  The bloody coup backfires against Brutus and Cassius, who find themselves at odds with Antony and Octavius Caeser (Diego Arvelo, who has great presence on the stage…glad to see him back up there).  Along for the ride are Casca, played by the ever-wonderful Richard Gelinas, David Dacosta as Cinna, Stavros Sakiadis as Titinius, Spencer Robson as Decius Brutus (Two Brutuses? Really, Shakespeare,  that’s just lazy), and yay, Jonah Allingham as the soothsayer!  Katie Bunting and Sarah McVie are in there as well, as the wives of Brutus and Caeser respectively, and have all too little stage time.  Shakespeare wrote great plays, but not a lot of great roles for women.  Maybe I’ll cast them in the all-female version of HAMLET I have running around in my head these days…

JC is a highly entertaining and energetic production, faithful to the themes of the classic work but adding in just enough updated tweaks to make it feel fresh.  Some of the high-tech effects are VERY impressive,  and I suspect we haven’t seen the last of them in Ottawa.  Kudos to Stage Manager Becca Wiseman for calling this tech-heavy show so smoothly (and sitting in the back row of the balcony as I was, I could occasionally even hear them talking in the both…kind of funny).  Nods as well to Paddy Mann’s costume design, and a typically amazing AL Connors soundscape.

But right, the acting!  There was that too!  And can I just say that good old Brad Long is on a roll these days?  His Mark Antony was seriously impressive…he gives a mean ‘Cry Havoc’ speech, lemme tell ya.  Likewise Mac Fyfe’s idealistic Brutus, who has great interplay with Mancini’s Cassius.  The whole ensemble, many doing double duty as minor characters, deliver excellent work throughout.  And, of course, the eager crowd of participants, proving that Ottawa audiences aren’t always content to just sit and watch.  The show, running until November 3rd at Centrepointe Studio, is only 10 bucks for the first 100 people every night!  If you have an excuse not to see this show, I don’t believe you.  Hail Caeser!  Peace, love and soul,

The Visitor (and Winston)

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