Breakneck Julius Caesar (Stage 8, Old Strathcona Performing Arts Centre)
By Marc Horton
It takes only a flip of his toga for actor Timothy Mooney to transform himself into Calpurnia, Caesar’s nervous wife. Another flip and the toga sleeve becomes a headscarf and Mooney becomes the devoted Mrs. Brutus.
Another flip and he’s Cassius. Another and he’s Mark Antony. Head back and just a little haughty, he becomes Caesar himself. Another flip and he’s Brutus.
It’s all amazing stuff, and surprisingly unhurried given that Mooney has whacked Shakespeare’s three-hour historical play down to a brisk and brilliant 60 minutes. We know, in fact, just how much time has elapsed – and how much is left – because a digital clock on stage is relentlessly counting down the seconds.
Mooney, who just might be the most affable performer at this year’s Fringe, is a welcoming sort of guy. Before the show begins, he moves among his audience handing out Caesar stickers, trading quips, swapping a few jokes, and setting the tone for what’s to come. And, yes, the audience will be asked to become involved, mostly as the mob shouting “huzzah” or demanding justice for the conspirators who stabbed Caesar on that fateful ides of March.
Mooney’s seamlessly editing of the Bard means that he’s kept all the good stuff – Antony’s funeral oration, Cassius’s Colossus spiel, Brutus’s “tides in the affairs of men” speech.
But this is not exactly Shakespeare-lite, played for laughs and little else. There is fun to be had here to be sure, but there’s also serious intent at work even if it’s leavened with a yuk or two.
Mooney often breaks the fourth wall to annotate the story and a slide show not only provides prompts for audience participation, but also gives handy explanatory notes and maps.
Breakneck also manages to provide a fresh interpretation of Brutus, who is presented as a very stubborn, somewhat pompous ass. What if Antony’s final speech, the “here lies the noblest Roman of them all” number, was delivered with the same irony as his “lend me your ears” bit?
What then? That changes the whole texture of the play methinks.
Hey, I’m convinced. Huzzah!
– Marc Horton is the former film reviewer and books editor for the Edmonton Journal. He saw his first Shakespeare play at age 12 – o, in fact – in the Capitol Theatre in Yellowknife. It starred James Mason as Brutus, John Gielgud as Cassius and Marlon Brando as Mark Antony. He loved it.