Dallas — The forecast leading up to such a momentous event was quite gloomy. Would folks be able to get out and make their voices heard? The fate of our empire was at stake. The clouds opened briefly, allowing the show to go on under only intermittent, light showers, and we few, we happy few, we band of hardy theatergoers got to witness Shakespeare in the Bar’s raucous and oh-so-timely take on the Bard’s Roman tragedy Julius Caesar.
Even Janielle Kastner, the director and member of the new leadership team at SITB, was surprised at the turnout on such a dismal evening. "What are all y’all doing here, she inquired of the audience during her preshow talk, and added that we must be “feeling particularly stabby,” and needed a bit of “catharsis” given the recent political climate on election eve.
I have been to many of SITB’s shows and they have certainly captured the zeitgeist of people—mostly young, and not necessarily used to attending theater—hungry for a certain kind of entertainment that is immersive, interactive, inebriate, and imbued with culture without being too stuffy. The Bard’s comedies and well-trod fare seem most suited for SITB’s recipe of “One part great actors. One part great plays. Hold the rehearsals. Stir.” However, last season’s Richard III was so incredible that it launched its lead (Brandon Potter) into Shakespeare Dallas’ full summer production of the play, and opened new possibilities for plays in pubs.
Even given that success, doing the bored-you-to-death-in-high-school Julius Caesar in front of drunken groundlings looking to party seemed like a mistake. Kudos to the fine minds at SITB for not only making the tragedy work, but for some inspired scheduling synergy as well.
Staging is limited in the bar settings of these productions (back patio of Wild Detectives for the show reviewed; the Nov. 14 performance is at the Ginger Man at 2718 Boll St., Dallas), yet Kastner uses every picnic table, ramp, low fence, and front and back exit to her advantage. Costumes, as per usual, are minimal (street clothes tending to business casual in this case). Special witch/ghoul costume for the Soothsayer (Steph Garrett) is especially spooky.
The most excellent band (8th Street Orkestar, led by Kevin Butler; see video above) is more character than accompaniment. The show opens and often reprises Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” (David Bowie’s “Fame” also shows up), in a stroke of thematic genius.
The well-known story of tyrants, intrigue, and assassination requires no recounting. Judicious streamlining of the script by Jeffrey Colangelo and Marcus Stimac (both a part of the new leadership team) hits all the highlights. The majesty of the language remains even if it is interwoven between humorous asides (Caesar uttering, “We have the best slogans! Slogans are yuuuuuge” after someone shouts, “Make Rome great again” is the best of the lot), calls for lines (the rule is to drink when this occurs), drunken catcalls and full-volume conversations by the audience.
There is much to contend with for an impressive cast that is “barely rehearsed,” but they all shine under a cloudy sky. Standouts include Brandon Potter’s ill-fated Julius Caesar, Shawn Gann as Metallus Cimber and First Citizen, Anastasia Muñoz as Brutus is a vision of restrained fervor, and Seth Magill’s Mark Antony is chilling. (On Nov. 14 the cast features Ivan Jasso as Brutus and Jeff Colangelo as Mark Antony). Marcus Stimac as Cassius is once again the tireless core of this project, striking the perfect balance of twinkling glee, characterization, and lyrical craft.
To borrow a phrase the orange-colored candidate repeatedly uses, this production is “big league.” Too bad they don’t pass out those nifty stickers to prove you cast your vote for such “tremendous” theater.