Shakespeare’s time-tested tragedy as political theater

Don’t expect to see any togas or sandals on stage when Grove City College Theatre Program presents William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” next week.

The setting has been updated to modern times, with student actors styled after today’s elite powerbrokers trading lines amid the trappings of today’s political environment.

Director Betsy (Boak ’77) Craig, professor of English and Theater, said several factors inspired the decision, including the play’s enduring message. “Julius Caesar” is focused on guilt, manipulation, unbridled power, and the moral dilemmas and mass hysteria surrounding its central action – the assassination of the title character.

“Though Shakespeare based the play loosely from his reading of Plutarch, he obviously realized the contemporary and universal applications of the story for his own day and time as well. Indeed, it is, unfortunately, a timeless tragedy that has every bit as much to say to all of us in 2023,” she said. 

The production opens Thursday, March 23 and runs through Saturday, March 25 in Ketler Auditorium of the Pew Fine Arts Center on campus. Showtimes are 7 p.m. The play is free and open to the public. For tickets:

The modern political setting provides an opportunity for the audience to play a role, much as they did in Shakespeare’s time when rowdy Globe crowds enhanced the drama.

“Our play opens in a present-day political rally,” Craig said. “When you come to the show,  the audience members are not just spectators but participants. The lights will be on. Loud music will be playing, and we are hoping very much to get people into the spirit.” The play bounces between public and private moments, which the production will reflect with fluid style settings, projections and surround sound.

The student cast is led by Ransom Coffeen as Caesar, Grace Scheller as Cassius, Christopher Tziovannis as Brutus and Hayden Wehrman as Antony.

“I’ve never been a ‘Shakespeare person’ but performing Shakespeare has definitely given me a new perspective,” Scheller said. “The language becomes understandable, the plot begins to make sense, and it just gets to a point where it comes alive. It’s really amazing to see life breathed into something that felt like just another old play. I hope the audience can see it that way, too.”

The modern setting also addresses Scheller’s gender-blind casting in a part written for a man. A woman senator was inconceivable in Caesar’s time, but no big deal now. In addition to addressing a lack of roles for women in the show, it reinforces the play’s relevance, Craig said.

“Power-plays are at the center of our politics, and it seems to have little to do with whether our politicians are men or women,” she said.

Shakespeare’s time-tested tragedy as political theater

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