“I think Julius Caesar is being played by a chick,” remarked one of my fellow classmates, looking at the playbill. “Be optimistic! It might work,” I replied, more to convince myself than him. Little did we know that bell-bottoms, afros, and Spanish serenades also awaited us at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
Taking advantage of the long weekend, members of Dr. John Wilson’s Shakespeare class drove to Ashland to see two of William Shakespeare’s plays, Measure for Measure and Julius Caesar.
Measure for Measure was first, with the surprising setting of the 1970’s. This dark comedy deals with the use and abuse of justice. The lines remained, for the most part, the same familiar mind-boggling Shakespeare. The location was the inner-city, with plenty of cultural diversity among the cast. Three skillful musicians linked the different acts with guitar, bass guitar, and violin melodies, with lyrics in both English and Spanish. It was an unexpected modernization, but I agree with my classmate Joe Kraft’s statement: “The incorporation of music and Latin flair turned the usually dark comedy into a more lighthearted comedy and reduced the tension throughout the performance.”
The next play, Julius Caesar, also modernized, was performed on a stage that was in the middle of the auditorium and surrounded by the audience. The tone was improvisational, though kept true to the original play and its universally important themes.
“Julius Caesar is about revolution – and what it means to love one’s country – which applies just as much today as it did in the first century,” said Amelia Kaspari, a junior English major who attended the events in Ashland.
One of the most unexpected changes was the role of Julius Caesar being played by the talented actress, Vilma Silva. Her acting was superb, and fit the part. At first, I was a little distracted by the characters referring to Caesar as “she.” But as the play progressed, I was pleasantly surprised at the depth of character revealed when Caesar was no longer tied to the typical casting choice.
During intermission, I heard some older ladies in the bathroom discussing the adaption. “Well, it has been done the old way a lot of times already, hasn’t it?” they said.
Talking about the modernizations, Amelia Kaspari said, “I really enjoyed them! I think it helped convey the timelessness of Shakespeare. His themes apply to many cultures across many centuries.” Classmate Joe Kraft agreed, “I personally thought that the modernizations worked well in most aspects and gave a new perspective on which to look at Shakespeare’s familiar plays.”