The Prenzie Players' Caesar, the company's truncated title for William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, has a playfulness about it, as director Tracy Skaggs reduces the Roman leader, played here by John Turner, to the role of celebrity. This consequently provides moments of humor and fun where there might otherwise be none, the highlight of which is J.C. Luxton's Antony grabbing patrons from out of the audience and stating "Caesar grants your wish - rise," before using his cell phone to snap pictures of the attendees with Caesar.
Turner accepts this re-imagined role willingly, delivering his lines with a touch of self-importance, and relishing the attention of his subjects while feigning annoyance. Meanwhile, the actors portraying Rome's citizens continue the celebrity theme by behaving almost like groupies to their leader, with loud revelry and spirited shouts of support. This allowed much of the first half of Friday's performance to feel like a party - but also like a one-night-stand, in that I felt like I could have some fun and then simply walk away.
Caesar marks the first time I tended to empathize with some of the Shakespeare purists who, regarding the Prenzies' adaptations of the Bard's tales, hold a distaste for the company's presentational style. While I would argue that Prenzie productions render their stories - which seem, to some, to be told in a foreign language - more understandable and enjoyable for many, I can also understand the points made about alterations to the the plays' original intents causing them to miss the mark on certain characterizations (though that rarely bothers me). Here, the changes result in a lack of affection for almost every character.
Caesar, with his celebrity, seems shallow, and his death, at least for me, failed to stir any emotion. Nor did the shrieks of his wife upon learning of her husband's demise, as Elizabeth Buzard's joyless Calpurnia seemed more in a marriage based on social standing than on love. Unfortunately, though, I also found it hard to sympathize with the senators who plot Caesar's assassination. Cole McFarren's Brutus, Stephanie Burrough's Cassius, and Jarrod DeRooi's Casca - the primary conspirators against Caesar - are too somber, too serious in their singular purpose. Played without nuance, they're flat and unrelatable, inspiring neither support nor disdain. Perhaps Skaggs doesn't want his audience to take sides and hail one side heroic and the other villainous, but the result is that neither Caesar nor the senators are dynamic enough to be considered either.
If I loved or loathed anyone, it was Brody Johnson's Lucius and Luxton's Antony, respectively. Johnson, a boy of about 11 years old, I'm guessing, is completely charming as Brutus' servant. Lucius seems aimed to please as he attempts to emulate his master's serious tones whenever the man is present, but still clings to moments of personal joy and freedom, such as when he secretly reads a book when alone.
And Luxton's Antony starts out equally likable - almost a frat-boy friend to Caesar with disregard to protocol when near the leader, romping about in what looks like undergarments during Caesar's initial speech. However, when Caesar is killed, Antony's true nature is revealed. Luxton uses that well-known soliloquy that begins "Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears" to rouse the rabble to his side, deftly swaying them one way and then another as Antony jockeys for power. The speech is delivered not unlike that of insincere, modern-day politicians who know what to say to influence the masses whether or not they actually believe their own words, and this scene turns a once-jovial, playful figure into a cunning, conniving man who's fun to hate - perhaps because of all-too-familiar political dishonesty.
Caesar's death, as staged, is also commendable, with the final stab unleashing blood that slowly pools and spreads out from beneath Turner's prostrate body. (Unfortunately, "bloodmistress" Alaina Pascarella's blood is the wrong consistency, not effectively clinging to nor staining the senators' arms after they wash in it.) Kate Farence's costumes, with their uncharacteristic-for-the-Prenzies full spectrum of colors, are also impressive, and include a sash on each person that's draped over modern clothing in a way that suggests togas. (The brown-duct-tape-armor vests, however, are, well ... odd.)
Still, this production left an indifferent taste in my mouth. Admittedly, I smiled and laughed more than I likely would have in many a presentation of Shakespeare's play. But while I respect the vision Skaggs successfully executes here, the Prenzie Players' Caesar just isn't my cup of tea.
Caesar runs at the QC Theatre Workshop through January 31, and more information and tickets are available by calling (563)484-4210 or visiting PrenziePlayers.com.