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Ashland Theater Review: Julius Caesar

Photo by Jenny Graham

When I studied Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” in high school it seemed like ancient history having nothing to do with me. Well, now it’s ancient history that relates perfectly to our times.

In a gripping production of the play directed by Shana Cooper at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Caesar’s Rome is deeply divided between citizens who adore him and others who fear erosion of civil rights as he seizes ever-greater powers.

The senator Cassius plots to assassinate Caesar and reinstate republican rule. When he convinces his good friend Brutus that this heinous act is necessary, other conspirators pledge their support.

In spite of supernatural warnings of pending danger, Caesar feels invulnerable. He goes to the Senate, and there he meets his bloody death as each conspirator stabs him repeatedly, even gentle Brutus.

Cassius, in a shrewd portrayal by Rodney Gardiner, is a brilliant strategist, but he defers to Brutus, the smooth orator. He knows well that Brutus is too trusting of Mark Antony, but he follows his friend out of loyalty.

Danforth Comins as Brutus clearly reveals his anguish over the brutal choices he must make. Jordan Barbour plays Antony as a powerful leader just as ambitious as Caesar.

The immediate result of the murder is rioting in the streets by Caesar’s followers. Thinking they have found Cinna, one of the conspirators, they mistakenly murder Cinna the poet in a gruesome scene that ends the first act.

During the second half of the play the warring factions escalate the violence. The tragedy of “Julius Caesar” is not Caesar’s death, but the impossibility of resurrecting the Roman republic.

On a happier note, former OSF actor Javier Munoz is now playing the title role in “Hamilton” on Broadway.

Credit Photo by Jenny Graham
Cassius (Rodney Gardiner) and Brutus (Danforth Comins)

Dorothy Velasco has reviewed productions at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival for KLCC since 1985.