Julius Caesar in the Park
By Anthony Chase
Shakespeare in Delaware Park will open its production of Julius Caesar this weekend – weather permitting. And certainly the chance to see a Shakespearean tragedy in the open air on a fine summer night is one of the great things about Buffalo. A few reminders are always useful: Do arrive early to ensure a good location. Shakespeare in Delaware Park attracts huge crowds and if you arrive too close to show time, you will be forced to sit on the periphery at the back where the people who chat throughout the show tend to sit. Such people are completing undaunted by glares of disapproval, so your best strategy is to set your blanket up early in a prime location. Shakespeare veterans (and you will know them by their Shakespeare in Delaware Park t-shirts) pack a picnic dinner, and watch the play with rapt attention.
Julius Caesar can be one of the most fun tragedies. It contains some of Shakespeare’s most famous lines, among them:
“Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him” (Act III, Scene II).
“But, for my own part, it was Greek to me” (Act I, Scene II).
“A dish fit for the gods” (Act II, Scene I).
“Cry “Havoc,” and let slip the dogs of war”(Act III, Sc. I).
“Et tu, Brute!” (Act III, Scene I).
“Men at some time are masters of their fates: The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings” (Act I, Scene II).
“Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more”(Act III, Scene II).
“Beware the ides of March”(Act I, Scene II).
“This was the noblest Roman of them all” (Act V, Sc. V).
“Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look” (Act I, Scene II).
“As he was valiant, I honour him; but, as he was ambitious, I slew him” (Act III, Sc. II).
“Cowards die many times before their deaths; The valiant never taste of death but once” (Act II, Scene II).
The plot of Julius Caesar is somewhat complex and a reminder of the major turns can be useful.
As the play begins, Caesar has just defeated his archrival, Pompey, in battle, and the population is neglecting their work to celebrate. Caesar enters triumphant with an entourage of his friends and is soon warned by a Soothsayer to “beware the Ides of March,” advice which he dismisses and ignores. The scene introduces Caesar’s key associates: Brutus, who is conflicted and concerned that the people want Caesar to become king; Cassius who is manipulative and notes that Caesar is just a man no better than anyone else and unsuited to rule as king; and Antony. Caesar confides in Antony that he does not trust Cassius.
Casca relates to Brutus and Cassius how, during the celebration, Antony had offered the crown to Caesar three times as the people cheered, but that Caesar refused it. He also describes how Caesar had fallen to the ground in a seizure before the crowd, but even this demonstration of weakness did not diminish the enthusiasm of the plebeians for him. As Brutus leaves, he reveals that Cassius has successfully undermined his confidence in Caesar.
There is storm that night with other bad omens. Cassius plants forged letters in Brutus’ home, ostensibly written by Roman citizens, expressing concern that Caesar has become too powerful. Cassius knows that Brutus will remove Caesar from power if he believes it is the will of the people.
Cassius and his co-conspirators arrive at Brutus’ home. With Brutus taking the lead, the men agree to lure Caesar from his house and murder him. Cassius wants to kill Antony too, Brutus thinks that too many deaths will dishonor them. The conspirators depart. Brutus’s wife, Portia, detecting that something troubles him, pleads with her husband to confide in her, but he refuses.
Caesar prepares to leave home for Senate, as Calpurnia, his wife, worried by nightmares in which she has seen smiling men bathing their hands in his blood urges him to stay. Ultimately, one of the conspirators convinces Caesar that Calpurnia has misinterpreted her dream, and he departs for the Senate in the company of his future killers.
As Caesar proceeds through the streets, the Soothsayer again tries to warn him. The citizen Artemidorus hands him a letter of warning, but Caesar refuses does not o read it. At the Senate, the conspirators encircle Caesar, and one by one, they stab him to death. When Caesar sees Brutus among them – “Et tu, Brute!” he surrenders to his fate and dies.
The remainder of the play involves Antony’s efforts to avenge Caesar’s death. The conspirators all end up dead – though Brutus manages to do so honorably.
Under the direction of Steve Vaughan, this production promises to have wonderful physicality. The production stars stars Dan Walker s Caesar, Adriano Gatto as Antony, Doug Zschiegner as Brutus, Tim Newell as Cassius, Diane DiBernardo as Portia, Cassie Gorniewicz as Calpurnia, Larry Smith as Casca, Katie White as the Soothsayer. Julius Caesar continues thorugh August 16, Tuesdays – Sundays at 7:30 p.m. on Shakespeare Hill in Delaware Park, behind the Rose Garden. Admission is free. Call 856-4533 with questions. And do be prepared to make a generous donation at intermission!