Some may assume the title role in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar means playing an old-school Tony Montana. Et tu, Scarface, it is not. As seen in the Emerson College Shakespeare Society’s enthusiastic and high-energy Feb. 17 and 18 production, the eponymous hero remains just a catalyst for a larger governmental coup d’etat, and the famous playwright’s examination of the Roman republic and the players within it.
“Everyone’s characters fed into that idea that Rome was the greatest city in the world,” Giovanni Naarendorp, a senior performing arts major who took on the title role, said. “And that’s what we were going for.”
Staged in the Little Building Cabaret, the small set gave the actors an intimacy larger spaces might have overlooked. With three iconic columns set against a simple black curtain, this was the sort of utilitarian set that allows capable actors to stand out entirely on their own merit.
Directors Brian Cowe, a junior performing arts major, and Ben Heath, a sophomore performing arts major, energized their actors, and the piece maintained a level of genuine enthusiasm.
By taking full advantage of the space’s main entryway, important scenes often took place alongside audience members, making viewers feel complicit with Julius Caesar’s murder. Sophomore performing arts major Mary Rochford, who played the not-so-soothing Soothsayer, raged past the audience and set the foreboding tone that the Ides of March were near.
Despite the Cabaret’s (swelteringly) personal space, portions of the actor’s words were sometimes indecipherably spoken. Perhaps this was due to Shakespearean English words getting lost in American translation.
Yet verbal dexterity came second to larger-than-life gestures, and the actors sometimes veered toward the overly histrionic in their physicality. Sophomore writing, literature, and publishing major Gabe Nelson’s embodiment of the conniving Casca, however, sublimated these hammy temptations into wonderful comic relief. His ability to accentuate certain phrases while throwing away others made for an electric part of the show.
Senior performing arts major Patrick Curran’s portrayal of Brutus and Cowe’s Marc Antony took advantage of their meaty roles, their vocal control of the erstwhile English the most resonant of the cast. Armed with verbose monologues, Curran commanded the audience’s attention with an almost conversational style. His burly build and beard helped make a likable murderer out of Brutus. Cowe, bearing both directorial and thespian duties for the production, exhibited an intense presence with his heart-rending cries over Caesar’s corpse. Both actors possessed a maturity that elevated the production.
Caesar’s ﬁnal scene with his wife Calpurnia, played by senior performing arts major Alexis Carpinello, added humanity and heart to the play.
Carpinello commented on the scene, saying, “In this large play of power and revenge, we see that despite everything, Caesar was not incapable of love.”
Doing as the Romans did, it’s clear the Shakespeare Society loved staging Julius Caesar, and powered through the text with exceptional chutzpah.