Perfect weather, a friendly crowd of about 1,100 in Elmwood Park and a solid production of “Julius Caesar” launched the 26th season of Shakespeare on the Green in fine form Thursday evening.
Director Alan Klem has done an outstanding job of staging the play, frequently to great visual effect, across the wide staircases and through the towering arches of Robbie Jones’ set. Lindsay Pape’s traditional Roman costumes, done almost entirely in cream, scarlet and gold, bolster the look and feel of the show.
From the first regal entrance of Caesar and his entourage after a victory in Spain to the final lighting of funeral pyres with a blazing torch, this “Julius Caesar” distinguishes itself in the number of memorable pictures that linger pleasingly in the mind’s eye.
Kurt Ehrmann, a Chicago-based actor, does an outstanding job in the title role, bringing a regal bearing, flawless line delivery and strong stage presence to the conquering hero who is soon murdered by friends who fear his ambition may turn to tyranny. His is the evening’s best performance among a gifted cast.
As Brutus, the conspirator closest to Caesar who is swayed by the scheming Cassius, John William Schiffbauer does a creditable job in the play’s most complex role. We’re meant to come away with mixed feelings about this “noblest Roman of them all,” and we do.
Richard McWilliams talks fast and strong — perhaps too strong at times — as scheming, insecure Cassius.
As Mark Antony, Chris White won over both the rabble onstage and the audience sprawled across the hillside as he delivered Caesar’s funeral oration with just the right amount of sarcasm about the nobility of Brutus’ intentions.
Among players in smaller featured roles, Sarah Carlson Brown stands out as a feisty, confrontational Portia. Jennifer Gilg also made a strong impression as another troubled wife, Caesar’s Calpurnia, who pleads unsuccessfully for him to stay home on the day of his murder. D. Kevin Williams is notable as the soothsayer who twice begs Caesar to beware the Ides of March.
Distractions? The set’s layout is better than its paint job, and cutouts of Roman busts set in some of the smaller arches seemed jarringly 2-D. Lighting shortly after intermission was so dim for a couple of night scenes that you couldn’t make out the actors’ faces.
But the battle scenes were impressive, and the blood — lots of it — flowed red in the shocking assassination scene. They’re more examples of how the look and staging of this show, along with several strong performances, are its greatest assets.
Good pacing brings the show in right at two hours, including intermission.
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