A fat, old, bloated Broadway Phantom perches its opulent girth on the big stage of the Marcus Center this week. Deep on the bowels of that theatre complex in the shadow of Uihlein Hall, there’s something much more primal haunting Rehearsal Hall A. It’s a brutal tribal staging of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar animated by a primal percussion. Once again Bard & Bourbon glides through a very stylish and aggressively intimate staging of Shakespeare that shrugs off the formality with which the man’s work is so often presented. Director Zachary Thomas Woods grants the political drama a predatory, animalistic energy about it with a very bestial feel about it thanks to the artistic vision of set/costume designer Keighley Sadler, who also plays Cassius.
Keighley Sadler wields a crazy, vertiginous gravity in the role of the lean and hungry Cassius who schemes to dethrone the powerful Julius Caesar. Sandler’s energy in the role is almost hypnotic, occasionally in danger of tipping over the edge of melodrama, but never quite exploding into an over-the-top intensity. She’s moving around in a set she designed wearing costuming she also designed. She knows exactly how far she can push the drama without going over the edge. Cassius is enticingly seductive as animated by Sadler's shadowy radiance.
Bryant Mason is admirably formidable as the even-tempered Brutus. Mason is a monument as the tragic falling hero pulled into ambition by Cassius. Mason and Sadler develop an intricate dynamic of respect and suspicion about them. Mason’s slow and steady momentum plays clever contrast to Sadler’s restless energy. The nobility of Mason’s treachery illuminates the darker end of heroism as good intentions are corrupted into shadowy ambition.
Chris Braunschweig is a bit of an enigma as Caesar. There’s a steadiness in his towering presence that serves the role well. There’s also arrogance peering around the edges of his portrayal that speak to the darker ambitions that power might amplify. Caesar doesn’t have much time to make a direct impression onstage, but Braunschweig manages to make a firm enough impression in his limited time onstage to serve as the central anchor for the drama.
Susie Duecker is the consummate hero as Mark Antony. Duecker shows courage in the face of insurrection as Antony sees his friend Caesar fall and looks to guide the people to revolt against the assassins. Duecker has a deep well of charisma that feels very poised and polished throughout. It contrasts against Mason’s earthy, organic presence. The resulting dynamic for the dueling orations between Mason and Duecker is as deeply conflicting as it should be. Where Mason’s appeal to the people of Rome is an attempt to justify homicide with an appeal to emotion, Duecker’s deftly poised delivery of details feels almost manipulative. Neither character comes across all that well.
Duecker’s beauty and charisma tip the scales in her favor as a contrast against the bestial brutality of nearly everything else Zachary Thomas Woods has cultivated fro the production. The animalistic hissing and barking filling all the empty spaces of the drama make for a very bestial production in the intimate confines of Rehearsal Room A. It’s a very tough and gritty Shakespeare that is all the more animate and engrossing than anything some Phantom could bring-in by trailer to the neighboring stage.
Bard & Bourbon’s production of Julius Caesar (drunk) runs through Mar. 17 at Rehearsal Hall A of the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts on 929 N. Water St. For ticket reservations and more, visit Bard And Bourbon online.