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Eugene Weekly : Theater : 6.23.11

 

Nowhere to Hide

An electrifying Julius Caesar in Ashland

By Anna Grace

Caesar (Vilma Silva) cannot shake the fearful night visions. Photo by Jenny Graham

I gasp, quickly going cold with horror as the first blade slices into the flesh at the back of her neck. Another falls upon her, and another, brilliancy of blood seeping through her white gown. I am riveted, having come to believe that surely this Caesar, so confident, so charismatic, could not be killed.

Vilma Silva plays Julius Caesar. That a woman should captivate us in the role of a might-be dictator feels in no way forced in the modern, sparse setting. She takes our hearts by right, with that peculiarly Roman capability tinged with infallibility flashing in her ready smile.

From the moment you enter the New Theatre, nay, even before that, the line between audience and performer is blurred. We become her Roman crowd willingly, caught up in the bloody politics of a country in flux. I am uncomfortable and uncertain in my role as both a viewer and de facto cast member.

This uncertainty is echoed in the questions of the play; what is the line between a hero and a tyrant, a liberator and a murderer? Julius Caesar is uniquely brilliant in the way the Shakespeare uses language and rhetoric to sway us from one opinion to the next. Gregory Linington (Cassius) and Danforth Comins (Mark Anthony) let the words roll and thunder in a clash of ideology (or self interest). Jonathan Haugen is compelling as Brutus.

The events in Julius Caesar are public, a fact we are never allowed to forget. With few exceptions, each actor rarely leaves the stage and plays several characters. They are constantly watching, ready to jump back into the fray. Gina Daniels works her roles with ease, giving a particularly striking performance in her turn as Portia.

Clean of pageantry and flashy tricks of staging, this show is not the wildly crowd-pleasing kind of play associated with the larger, more well-known (and currently closed due to damage to a support beam) Bowmer Theatre. More than once I cover my lips, trying not to physically cry out for fear it will wake the patron sleeping in the seat next to me. But if the snoozing gentleman was not impressed, the middle school girls across from me were nearly vaulting from their seats in enthusiasm. Julius Caesar is an intense, intellectual experience for the passionate lover of Shakespeare.

Julius Caesar runs through Nov. 6 in the New Theatre at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland.