It’s amazing what 500 years can do. When Shakespeare first brought his plays to the stage the roles of women were played by men. In the current Studio 58 production of Julius Caesar director Scott Bellis turns the tables but that decision comes from necessity than from any real exploration of gender.
In inviting his actors to audition for whatever role they were most interested in regardless of gender, Bellis had a unique opportunity to explore Shakespeare’s tragedy but it becomes as ambiguous as the moral ambiguity of the play itself.
The ambiguity in the casting choices is heightened by placing only a few women in male roles and leaving the two female roles as women. I spent most of the first act trying to come to terms with Bellis’ choices here, looking for some connection between what Bellis himself acknowledged as the strong male dynamic in the play and his female casting. Unfortunately it was a fruitless effort as that connection never materialized for me and I pulled back in act two to look at the production as a more traditional offering.
Despite the miss on the gender front, director Bellis has taken great pains in helping his actors with a clear understanding of the text. As Caesar, Leslie Dos Remedios is steadfastly regal and Andrea Houssin gives her Brutus just the right amount of self-doubt. Katey Hoffman is a perfectly gentle Lucius and Kazz Leskard brought a unique quirkiness to his role of Casca. The real stand-out here though is Tim Carlson as Mark Antony who brought the required eloquence to the role, which was perfectly highlighted in the much quoted “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears” speech.
Set designer Amir Ofek places the action on a tilted square that while beautiful in its simplicity never quite came into focus for me. Michael Sider’s projections are gorgeous against Ofek’s square and Owen Belton hit all the right notes with his choice of music. Naomi Sider’s military costumes were appropriately impressive and powerful.
Once you look beyond the gender-bend, this cast gives credible performances.
By William Shakespeare. Directed by Scott Bellis. A Studio 58/Langara College production. On stage at Studio 58 through February 26, 2012. Visit http://www.studio58.ca for tickets and information.