Caesar for the park
By Colin Dabkowski
If Derek Campbell’s production of “The Tempest” was the brains of Shakespeare in Delaware Park’s current season, Steve Vaughan’s “Julius Caesar” is the brawn.
Vaughan, a longtime fight choreographer and frequent director for the company who also teaches at Niagara University, took a scalpel to wide swaths of dialogue, beefed up fight sequences and distilled Shakespeare’s famed tragedy into a swift two hours of what he called “sex, violence and spectacle.”
“I cut all the extraneous things out,” Vaughan said. “Everything that was not directly related to the plot or the story, I cut.”
In his years of directing and fight choreographing for the summer Shakespeare company, Vaughan has developed a reputation for producing no-nonsense shows that hone in on the essential and leave the rest to the audience’s imagination. And that’s especially true with “Caesar,” which Vaughan touts as his favorite Shakespearean script.
Vaughan compared “Caesar” to his directorial project from last summer, “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” the way one might compare Mozart to Papa Roach.
“ ‘Merry Wives’ was a commission script. Queen Elizabeth said, ‘Write me some more funny things about Falstaff.’ It’s a half-assed play,” said Vaughan, whose tendency not to mince words as a director also applies to newspaper interviews. “ ‘Caesar’ is a play that he wrote because he wanted to, because it was in his soul, it was in his heart. And it’s way better.”
The role of Caesar will be played by SDP veteran Dan Walker, who praised Vaughan’s directorial approach for its economy and strength.
“With Steve directing, it’s a very musical Caesar,” said Walker, a former Marine who at 6 feet, 5 inches, makes a rather muscular Caesar himself. Given his stature and proclivity for roles that require a certain swagger and confidence, Walker was not about to play the great Roman emperor as a cowering old man, as some have opted to do in the past.
“Caesar’s not a dope,” Walker said. “He knows these guys who come to get him aren’t his friends.”
“Caesar” also has the built-in benefit of unmatched familiarity among Shakespeare’s works, popular as the play has been for decades in high school English classrooms across the country. Oft-quoted lines — “Beware the ides of March,” “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears,” “Et tu, Brute?” and the like — live on in the minds of theatergoers as hallmarks of one of the Bard’s bloodiest and most frequently performed plays.
For Vaughan, the production will succeed only insofar as its audience is willing to use its imagination to color in the world anchored by Shakespeare’s words and the director’s intense fight choreography. He is, for instance, refusing to use stage blood in the play’s most famous sequence.
“I’m going to trust my audience, and you can tell them that,” Vaughan said. “So please don’t expect reality, because reality has nothing to do with theater.”