Review written by Natasha Yim
William Shakespeare famously wrote, “All the World’s a Stage.” And in Mendocino College’s current production of “Julius Caesar”, so is the entire Mendocino College theatre. In bringing Shakespeare’s timeless classic to life, director Reid Edelman recreates the frenzied chaos surrounding Caesar’s assassination and the conflicts that follow, by inventively releasing his actors from the physical confines of the stage.
The theatre aisles become the streets of Rome, filled alternately with the joyous cheers or angry shouts of Roman citizens’. Through the expansive use of space and professionally choreographed combat scenes by Mendocino College’s guest artist, Bay Area theatrical fight instructor, Carla Pantoja, Edelman creates the illusion that his handful of actors is a riotous mob or a crowd of eager listeners. Characters pop up in the balconies, the wings, the back of the theatre, making for a neck-craning experience, but for the theatre-goer, it’s delightfully intimate. You’re not just watching the action, you’re part of it.
Shakespeare’s political drama opens with Caesar returning from a victorious military campaign and being greeted by an adoring populace. However, there is unrest brewing in the senate. Caesar’s political foe, Cassius, has gathered a group of disgruntled aristocrats with assassination on their minds. In the program’s Director’s Notes, Edelman describes “Julius Caesar” as a “cautionary tale of how quickly and easily people are swayed, whether it is Brutus being swayed by Cassius to join the conspiracy, Caesar being swayed to ignore the prophesies and go to the capitol, or the plebeians being swayed from loyalty to Caesar, to loyalty to Brutus, to violence in a civil war unleashed by Antony.”
Anchored by veteran thespians Jason Davis in the title role of Caesar, and Andrea McCullough as the scheming Cassius, “Julius Caesar” also showcases many young talent of the Mendocino College Conservatory Cohort, a rigorous theatre training program which prepares students for an AA degree in Theatre and possible transfer to a four-year university. The principal roles of Brutus and Mark Antony are portrayed by Christopher Robin Griffith and Jas Byerley. Performing Shakespeare well is no easy feat, what with the bard’s propensity for long speeches and monologues, and requiring the actors’ to master particular speech patterns and archaic sentence constructions of the Elizabethan period. The cast of “Julius Caesar” manages to, not only master it, but deliver passionate and heartfelt performances.
Edelman has given his version of “Julius Caesar” a modernized twist with cell phones, walkie-talkies, and a gun or two making an appearance. The costuming by Kathy Dingman-Katz slowly transitions from classic Roman outfits as the play opens, into garb reminiscent of Fidel Castro’s revolutionaries. The action plays out against a minimalist backdrop allowing the focus to center on Shakespeare’s iconic characters and the actors’ engaging performances.
Shakespeare is still the pinnacle of achievement in many theatrical circles, and this production of “Julius Caesar” impressively showcases the Conservatory Cohort’s ability to generate and cultivate new talent in the dramatic arts.