Cal Performances Theatre National De Bretagne Julius Caesar 4 Frederic Nauczyciel

Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar: Théâtre National de Bretagne at Cal Performances

above: Pictured: Théâtre National de Bretagne performs Julius Caesar Saturday–Sunday, April 27–28, 2019 in Zellerbach Hall.
(credit: Frédéric Nauczyciel)

Pictured: Théâtre National de Bretagne performs Julius Caesar Saturday–Sunday, April 27–28, 2019 in Zellerbach Hall. (credit: Frédéric Nauczyciel)

Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar presented by the Théâtre National de Bretagne April 27-28, 2019 and produced by Cal Performances at Zellerbach Hall is a striking production. A creative team skilfully led by renowned French director Arthur Nauzyciel bring the tragedy, set in America in the 60s, to life visually with much impact.

Nauzyciel is also the director of the Théâtre National de Bretagne in France since 2017 and this production (in English), directed by Nauzyciel premiered in 2008 at the American Repertory Theater, Loeb Drama Center (Cambridge, Boston). Shakespeare’s plays are intriguing in their timeless relevance and the political themes, grist and strong personalities of the characters in Julius Caesar resonate today.

Pictured: Théâtre National de Bretagne performs Julius Caesar Saturday–Sunday, April 27–28, 2019 in Zellerbach Hall. (credit: Yann Peucat)

Based on true events in Roman history Julius Caesar is a brutal tragedy told through a power struggle, in short, Brutus (James Waterson) is concerned that his successful friend Caesar (Dylan Kussman) may be too powerful and popular and then become a dictator. Cassius (Mark Montgomery) is jealous of Caesar’s success and leans on Brutus. Calpurnia (Sara Kathryn Bakker) warns her husband Caesar about omens that he should not go to the Senate on the ides of March, advice which he ignores…

The ambitious set – especially for a touring production – is complex and sophisticated – and mostly in red, except for long floaty white curtains. Instead of a setting in the cold stone Senate of Julius Caesar’s time Riccardo Hernandez (Set Designer) envelops the characters in dramatic imagery of repeated rows of theatre seats at different angles which seem to go on forever. Just like in ancient times politics and theatre nurture each other and Nauzyciel also finds parallels with Kennedy and Caesar’s assassinations. In program notes of an interview with Gideon Lester, Nauzyciel states “For me, classical plays are a memory of the future. They’re time capsules; …They contain a collective memory of human behaviour, aspirations, expectations, illusions.”

A cast of thirteen actors perform all characters with twelve male actors playing twenty-four characters and one female actor (Sara Kathryn Bakker) playing both of the female characters, Portia and Calpurnia. James Schuette (Costume Designer) costumes the men in smart black evening suits with crisp white shirts and black ties, with several variations, such as two men in white track-suits and Lucius (Jared Craig) in modern casual and a Superman suit with cape. Portia and Calpurnia’s long gowns are detailed and beautiful.

Pictured: Théâtre National de Bretagne performs Julius Caesar Saturday–Sunday, April 27–28, 2019 in Zellerbach Hall. (credit: Frédéric Nauczyciel)

The approximately three hours and 20 minutes performance with one intermission is sustained by inventive staging, streamlined transitions and mise-en-scène. Actors move deliberately with subtle and stylised moments in sync rocking back and forth, sitting or kneeling in sculptural positions, in a brilliant brawny fight sequence with rhythmic punches and sounds – and even when walking off stage viscerally – to choreographer Damien Jalet’s inspired movement. Scott Zielinski (Lighting Designer) produces outstanding light and shadows in each transition and scene that complement the set perfectly.

Actors in this play would benefit from projecting their voices more in this large house – it was difficult to hear the dialogue, which was also spoken rather slowly, so it was challenging to connect with the characters and follow their journey. Exceptions are Daniel Pettrow’s Mark Antony and Bakker’s Portia (Brutus’s wife) and the contrasting Calpurnia (Caesar’s wife) who both successfully find the right vocal energy as well as flow, emphasis and build in their storytelling and emotion. Pettrow’s Mark Antony speech at his friend Caesar’s grave is particularly strong and poignant as he treads both sides of allegiance and blame on Brutus.

Another highlight is Craig’s Lucius, Brutus’s servant whose sleeping stillness at first then his exuberance later on – and his silent communication through sign language is an ingenious and moving character who adds texture to the play and complicity with the audience. One wonders how much he sees of the evil planners when Brutus receives politicians at his home or how he interprets Brutus’s angst ridden sleeplessness as he slips in and out to fetch for his master.

A Jazz Trio play live and in full view in between scenes and during intermission to great effect as their modern songs add to the commentary, mood and storytelling: Dimitry Ishenko, double bass; Leandro Pelligrino, guitar; and Marianne Solivan, vocals.

This Julius Caesar is a provocative and handsome production that is well worth seeing if you have the opportunity!

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Jo Tomalin, Ph.D. reviews Dance, Theatre & Physical Theatre Performances
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About the Author

Jo TomalinOriginally from England Jo Tomalin is currently based in San Francisco, where she reviews Theatre & Dance for & - she works in the performing arts as a freelance movement & voice specialist, director + actor. She is also Professor in the School of Theatre & Dance at San Francisco State University, teaching Movement for Actors, Voice for Actors, Storytelling, Business of Acting, Acting and directs MainStage plays. Jo's first play "Jessica" which she also directed was produced at the Fringe of Marin - a One Act New Play Festival. Jo Tomalin studied Classical Acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), London; and holds a teacher's diploma (ATCL) in Voice and Acting from Trinity College of Dramatic Art, London. She studied Classical Ballet for 12 years; Graduated from London University's Laban Centre Teaching Credential program in Modern Dance, Art of Movement & Choreography; Completed the two year professional training course at the renowned acting school "Ecole Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq" Paris, France, where she also completed the Laboratoire du Mouvement (LEM) scenography and movement course. Jo also holds a Master of Science degree in Educational Technology from Boise State University and a Ph.D. in Education with a specialization in Instructional Design for Online Learning from Capella University, MN.View all posts by Jo Tomalin →