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Critic’s Choice: ‘Julius Caesar’ pared but not diminished

Scott Parkinson (left) as Cassius and Kareem Bandealy as Brutus in a scene from “Julius Caesar” at Writers Theatre in Glencoe
Scott Parkinson (left) as Cassius and Kareem Bandealy as Brutus in a scene from “Julius Caesar” at Writers Theatre in Glencoe

GLENCOE – Writers Theatre may have ruffled a few feathers by beginning its 2016-17 season with a streamlined version of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” but it doesn’t need to apologize.

The striking, fresh look at the play, taken by co-directors Michael Halberstam and Scott Parkinson, is a carefully wrought adaptation. The show, pared down and performed without an intermission, runs one hour and 45 minutes.

It remains a bloody tale of intrigue, murder and revenge. But, interestingly, the emphasis shifts away from the ambitious war hero Caesar (Madrid St. Angelo) to the envious conspirators plotting his assassination; the cabal is fearful that Caesar will lay claim to the title of dictator in perpetuity.

Parkinson, a veteran actor with nine previous Writers Theatre credits, also appears in the cast as Cassius, one of the instigators covertly lobbying against Caesar. It’s Cassius who plants the bloody coup idea in the mind of Brutus (Kareem Bandealy, another familiar face to Writers audiences) where it took root and spread.

Caesar brushes aside sinister warnings from a soothsayer (Ayra Daire) that he be on his guard and similar misgivings of his wife Calphurnia (Christine Bunuan) about his plans to attend the senate meeting.

In brief remarks in the program booklet, Halberstam draws some parallels between the current political turmoil on the world stage and what went on in ancient Rome: “I can think of no better play to reflect this highly unusual election season than the greatest of all political dramas, ‘Julius Caesar’.”

“But where do the parallels lie? . . . Shakespeare offers no clear villain and no clear hero, but he chronicles the nuances and obvious machinations of political manipulation ... and leaves you with many more questions than answers.”

Meanwhile, Parkinson is quoted about his fascination with the play and “... how it explores the tension between a practical approach to governing on the one hand, and a moral approach on the other.”

Parkinson continues: “In terms of which approach wins out within the context of Shakespeare’s story, the contest isn’t even close – but at what cost? – the play seems to ask. I’m also fascinated by the way in which world-shaking decisions affecting millions of people’s lives are often made based on the simplest, sometimes pettiest of unrealized motivations between individuals.”

Thomas Vincent Kelly stands out in the role of Caesar’s friend Mark Antony, whose carefully crafted eulogy for the murdered warrior stirs up a sympathetic response from the crowd.

Courtney O’Neill’s spare but effective set is dominated by an imposing row of tall, slanting pillars. Adding to the somber mood are Jesse Klug’s lighting and original music and sound design.

If you go:

Julius Caesar’

Where: Writers Theatre, 325 Tudor Ct., Glencoe

When: Through Oct. 16

Tickets: $35 to $80

Info: (847) 242-6000 or visit

writerstheatre.org

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