TITAN Theatre Company has seen the future — and the future is bleak. The political climate gains momentum, with public opinion ruled by sweeping promises of Rhetoric, rather than the practicality of Reason. This could refer to the mud-slinging rat race currently going on in our country, referring instead to one which occurred hundreds of years ago. The Queens-based theatre collective continues in their mission to breathe new life into classic works with a sleek, provocative take on William Shakespeare’s politically-centered historical historical drama. The production marks the end of TITAN’s third full season as company-in-residence at the Queens Theatre, this time with Jack Young at the helm.
In a lot of ways, Caesar stays true to many elements that have become part-and-parcel to a quintessentially TITAN production: a modern setting against which the company’s consistently strong ensemble of actors (along mostly intact Shakespearean dialogue) are juxtaposed. However, while these elements are certainly carried over into Caesar, giving it that particular air of TITAN-esque familiarity, this production is also a departure from the company’s other works, leaning even more bravely toward the avant-garde. This fearlessness is perhaps due not just to TITAN’s ensemble of actors (resident company members and visiting artists alike) and its artistic director, Lenny Banovez, but also to the production’s own design team.
Sarah Pearline’s scenic design truly sets the stage for Caesar‘s bleak dystopia. Just like classic novels of the genre — particularly, George Orwell’s 1984 — the set, despite its stark minimalism, cloaks itself deep in complex symbolism. Instead of the traditional Roman columns one might expect from the world of Caesar, Pearline punctuates TITAN’s futuristic Rome with the criss-crossing, ray-like beams across the back wall of the set, conjuring images of both the steel frames of corporate buildings and bars of a prison cell. Either way, the people of Rome are certainly trapped in a less-than-idyllic system — a totalitarian regime, in fact, ruled by the titular tyrant Julius Caesar (Jonathan Smoots) himself.
Early on in the first act, Cassius (Banovez) utters the famous lines: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in our Selves, that we are underlings.” Not everything is as fated as we think it is, and if it is Rome that is in a state of complete tyranny, then it is because the people were complicit in their own subjugation. This is made clear just as the ensemble enters the stage and we can see, etched across its floor, criss-crossing geometrical lines dotted at various points — remarkably similar to constellations in the sky. At first, the group of Romans, decked out in black slacks and crisp white shirts by costumer Lorraine Smyth, step out individually into a strange assembly of movements. These movements at first seem random until Caesar himself enters, standing at the center of the stage where all points of the “constellation” on the ground meet, and at the motion of his staff, they fall into a synchronized dance of sorts. The choreography, abstract and yet specific in its thoroughly modern, Graham- and Cunningham-esque movements, most enhances the production’s aforementioned departures into bolder artistic territory.
However, it doesn’t just stop with just the design elements and choreography. As they did in last year’s Othello, TITAN rounds up some of the best stage actors found on both coasts and in-between; and as always, it seems almost blasphemous to single any one actor out. From the aforementioned “grand entrance” in the beginning to the inevitable assassination scene and its dramatic, consequential end the ensemble move as one, egos thrown aside for the sake of better serving the story. That said, TITAN also utilizes double-casting in Caesar (something seen before in their previous productions –particularly A Midsummer Night’s Dream), which also allows for each actor in all of their varied, respective roles, to shine equally.
Unlike the dystopian doom they depict onstage, TITAN once again proves that unity as a group can positively serve the public at large, and that to progress in theater is not only to challenge its boundaries, but also compel one to think critically.
Images courtesy of Michael Dekker. Julius Caesar ran from March 25 – April 10, 2016 at the Queens Theatre (14 United Nations Avenue).