Julius Caesar: not the most uplifting play within the Shakespearean Folio, but one that bears a story ripe with intrigue, politics, and, of course, lots of blood. Hot on the heels of Hart House’s season opener, A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum, Shakespeare’s great historical tragedy is centralized through the complex figure of Brutus and the effect of Caesar’s assassination.
Director Anthony Furey, making his Hart House debut, is a rising force within the Toronto Theatre community as both a director and producer. His creation (at the tender age of 16) of the Paprika Festival, now in its seventh season, has provided valuable theatrical experience to youth across the city by offering a platform for their work, as well as mentorship by professional artists. Since then, he has directed for the New Ideas Festival, and the Toronto Fringe, as well as writing, directing, and producing a number of short films, all while finishing up his degree.Now, Furey has moved on to darker material, taking on the grand task of Shakespeare with a steely dedication that seems appropriate in relation to the grittiness of the play itself. When asked about his reaction to the material, his response is spontaneous but has obvious consideration behind it.“It is a play about people, who, for different reasons resolve to do one of the most startling acts of assassination in world history, and they do so because they’re passionate about their country.” Furey describes how he spent a good chunk of the summer months absorbing as much information as he could find—theory, criticism, even a biography of Shakespeare— as a means of further inhabiting Caesar. “I learned that it’s really a lifetime pursuit,” he said, smiling. Furey’s not the sort to pretend that he’s learned everything there is to know about the Shakespearean canon over the summer holidays, but he’s obviously picked a few things up.“You can observe who different political minds over different eras have considered to be the protagonist of Julius Caesar
. It is debatable—not exactly a ‘choose your own adventure’ play, but rather, it testifies to the depth and introspection of all Shakespearean leads. Julius Caesar
is extravagant, spectacular—and I have to say—swashbuckling. I often call it unrelenting because there is no other play of Shakespeare’s that moves forward with such relentless ferocity. Julius Caesar
has no gentle moment; everything has this foreboding darkness riding behind it. The research informed my vision of the play by making me feel like I’ve actually lived it. By attacking it from so many angles, it gets in your blood.”Furey goes on to describe the components of the production’s design— lighting and sound in particular—and why he opted for stylization of its image and tone when he is such an unapologetic advocator of naturalism on the stage.“I opted away from the traditional Roman style—we’ve taken it out of space and out of time altogether. It’s set in an Orwellian Dystopia in which the system is down and the sun never rises. [Sound designer] Richard Feren has crafted a soundtrack for the show which underpins, but also sometimes contrasts what we’re feeling when viewing a scene. Everything is very hyper-theatrical. The play is always moving, but there’s a great sense of contrast—slow versus fast, very loud moments and very quiet moments— but there’s never a time when the curtain is pulled down. There are no reflective moments before a soliloquy; there are always other images or characters encroaching in on them.”Julius Caesar
is not only a history play with tragic consequences, but is also a distinctly political play with its depiction of the public and private spheres, leaders, subjects, and rebellion. What does Furey make of this?“There’s the potential to stage (and see) Julius Caesar
as an interpretation of the American government versus a Middle Eastern government—a really heavy contemporary interpretation. I’m more interested in how Brutus commits to doing something, follows through with it quickly, and realizes that life still sucks after doing what you said you always wanted to do. Hamlet is the guy who never went far in life, sitting in some dive bar, saying that he ‘coulda done it’—Brutus is the guy who succeeded—he’s got wealth and fame—and he’s still miserable. That’s more tragic, because he doesn’t have a fail-safe. You realize that even when you get to that end point in life, what you think is your teleological destination—you’re still fucked.”At this, Furey looks momentarily unsettled, as if this interpretation has struck an inner chord. Then he cracks a grin, a less angst-ridden thought overpowering that last, grim statement.“We have a great actor starring in the play. Jason Fraser, who has spent time performing off-Broadway, as well as a very accomplished supporting cast rounding things off. It’s a really strong and unique team. The show’s a powerhouse, and there is so much spectacle, in terms of processions and huge fight scenes with twenty shirtless guys all trying to rip limbs off each other.”When asked about what he hoped the effect of this powerhouse production will be, Furey contemplates for a few moments, attempting to pinpoint what he feels would be the most fruitful response to the work and the underlying message he has been working to generate.“The play has such an operatic component, the grandness and intensity of convictions is beyond anything we see today. The message in Julius Caesar
gives an example of people who care so much about what they’re doing that they’re truly willing to die for this. I liken this play to a Clint Eastwood film: you keep ’em entertained throughout, but at the same time, when they leave, they feel like they’ve been a part of something greater.”Julius Caesar runs from Nov. 21 until Dec. 8. Student tickets are $12. Visit the website for more info: harthousetheatre.ca