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The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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All hail Pioneer Theatre

Pioneer Memorial Theatre’s production of “Julius Caesar” exemplifies the way in which Shakespeare still lounges on his literary throne.

Despite their difficult, antiquated language, Shakespeare’s plays, arguably more than any other playwright’s, have successfully weathered literature’s temporal battle and have defied the aging and outdating process. The Bard addressed universal human themes and dilemmas, most of which have no “right” answers and remain as immediate and apropos now as they were 300 years ago.

In the hit-or-miss vein of Baz Luhrmann’s “Romeo and Juliet” and that stupid Ethan Hawke “Hamlet,” director Charles Morey (who is also Pioneer’s Artistic Director) stages “Caesar” with a contemporary set, costumes and technology.

Caesar (played by Ross Bickel), here a paunchy, amiable and somewhat clueless aging leader, addresses his treacherous senate and impressionable constituents via a live feed. His charismatic right-hand man, Marc Antony (played by Lawrence Wayne Ballard) dons an athletic jumpsuit. The members of the senate, all pasty-white and sporting the typical politico side-part, alternately ingratiate themselves to their leader and plot to kill him behind his back-it’s just like the modern American political scene.

Two particularly disenchanted senators, Brutus (played by Kurt Zischke) and Cassius (played by Mark Elliot Wilson) assemble a cabal to assassinate and supplant Caesar, whom they feel is an inadequate leader. Caesar’s death will benefit the people, they assure themselves, and at the next meeting, stab Caesar to death.

The pro-Caesar faction, led by Marc Antony, combats the insurgency, which morphs into unrestrained warfare. Morey and his crew project war-stock footage onto the massive, columned Roman backdrop, and the anachronistic slash of the graphic images bears enormous emotional power.

The senators-cum-soldiers on both sides wear military fatigues with their names embroidered on the breasts. Ignore their stilted diction, and we could be watching a recreation of Desert Storm.

The to-kill-or-not-to-kill-dubious-leaders quandary is one with which Americans on both sides of the partisan fence-and peoples all over the world-have been grappling since, well, forever. Taken as the hypothetical (and literal and historical, probably) fruition of a tempting solution, “Caesar” presents the terrifying possibilities of consummating an act that may be just, but which engenders a far direr situation than the preceding one.

Ballard and Wilson boom, resonate and exude raw power as Antony and Cassius. What separates a stupendous performance from merely a good one lies in the voice. No matter how proficient the actor, if his or her larynx lacks power, well, that’s it. Kudos to the entire cast, all of whom don their respective personas with passion and vigor-no weak links. Who says only the Brits can effectively perform Shakespeare?

I don’t.

And, bravo, crew! Infusing 21st-century production values into Shakespeare, let alone “Julius Caesar,” could have easily been laughable or confounding. But Pioneer’s “Caesar” was executed more deftly than the titular character’s death.

Oh, that was an awful way to end a review. For shame.

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