This spring, the Meredith College Theatre Department will be performing William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. This modern adaptation is set in a women’s prison, where Julius Caesar has become dominant and popular among the prison inmates. What is most effective about this modern adaptation is the set and clever incorporation of characterization in key scenes. The curtains around the stage are replaced with metal fences, and there are cement blocks that act as a backdrop and platforms on stage. Even when Caesar is not present on stage, the sound of the inmates cheering and celebrating her offstage demonstrate her power and assist Cassius in her convincing Brutus of Caesar’s dangerous ambition.
The most effective aspect of the second act is the clever appearance and intervention of Caesar’s ghost. The scene during the war in which Brutus sees Caesar’s ghost is mysterious and chilling. Brutus first witnesses Portia’s ghost and begins dancing with her, only for her to be creepily replaced by Caesar’s ghost. Caesar’s ghost appears several times as the second act progresses, and more times than in the original script. This was especially powerful because it had a dramatic effect on Brutus and Cassius and on the soldiers on the battlefield.
The reason so many directors stay away from William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar is because it is a politically charged play. When asked why he decided to do Julius Caesar at Meredith, Director and Professor Steven Roten explained that “there’s currently a great divide in our country between political parties. I see the strong chemistry between leaders and their supporters, and it makes me see parallels between Julius Caesar and what we see in society today.” For this performance, Roten decided to set the beginning of the plot in a women’s prison, where there is a political divide. When talking about this and preparing the performance, he clarified that he believes Julius Caesar can be modernized enough to help people understand it, but ultimately “the source material has to ground us where we are.” Maintaining the meaning and authenticity of the characters is important.
According to Jordan Clodfelter and Laura Austin, who play Caesar and Brutus, understanding and analyzing their characters was something that was a major part of preparation. Before playing Julius Caesar, Clodfelter said she had to do research to fully know who Caesar was, what he did for Rome and why he was so powerful. Clodfelter describes her Caesar as egotistical, powerful and overconfident and believes Caesar “thinks that she is more dangerous than danger itself.” Austin explained that when preparing to play Brutus, since he is such a controversial character, she had to think about the characters and differentiate between “what [she wants] to happen versus what actually happens” in the play. Austin says Act II, Scene I is crucial for her because Brutus is working through her thoughts. When her character says, “I literally have no reason to kill her except that she might do something,” Austin says that she thinks “this is a really important moment.” Clodfelter and Austin both agree that choosing a side between Caesar or Brutus is exciting for both the audience and cast, because you have to try and determine “where on that spectrum you lie.” The actors would also like to point out that Shakespeare still relates to us today because human nature has always been the same, and because of this relevance, anyone can gain an appreciation for his plays.
Performances will take place in Jones Auditorium Feb. 19-22 at 7:30 p.m. and Feb. 23 at 2 p.m. Admission is free and donations are appreciated.
By Katelyn Wiszowaty, Staff Writer