Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar," which tells the story of a group of conspirators as they plot to take down the most powerful man in their share of the world, is a compelling tale of political intrigue. As it reveals the motivations of its various characters, it touches on timeless themes, among them the struggles for and against political power.
With these topics at the forefront due to current events, the play was a natural pick as Absegami High School's Emanon Players' fall production, drama teacher and director Chip Garrison said.
"The themes in the play deal with a government that's in chaos, how much strength and control should the government have, all of which are issues that are in our current election cycle," Garrison said. "There's lessons to be learned in the play, so it was kind of interesting, and I thought this was an interesting time to do this play."
Aaron Sartorio plays the titular ruler, an arrogant, domineering figure who sets into motion the consolidation of power that would change Rome from a republic to an empire. Luke Petrecca (Mark Antony) and Nathan Moore (Brutus) play two friends of Caesar, Brutus the man who would betray him, and Antony, the man who would seek to take up his mantle.
Gabrielle Hughes, who plays Caesar's wife and ignored doomsayer Calpurnia and Erica Butterhof, who plays Brutus' wife, Portia, are the play's lead actresses.
With his elaborate plotlines and esoteric language, Shakespeare can often present a challenge in the modern theater, especially for high school students. Nonetheless, Petrecca said the cast is performing admirably.
"It's a really big, ensemble task," Petrecca said. "It's a lot to take on, but the cast is working beautifully to make it really believable, and there's a natural flow to the lines that once you actually pull them apart, it's pretty much like everyday talk."
Garrison has put a spin on the traditional staging of the play, setting it in a what-if scenario in which Rome remains a superpower in the modern era. While the on-stage architecture is distinctly Roman, the costumes are all-black, aside from a few minor adornments, and much of the play's classical bombast is toned down.
As he's modernizing the play, Garrison is also paying homage to ancient theater by having his players wear masks across their noses and around their eyes, the colors of which symbolize their character's role in the storyline - a common practice in the Greek and Roman days.
"I think it's a really cool take on 'Julius Caesar,'" Hughes said. "We're kind of mixing modern ideas with the past, so everyone's in black, but we're wearing masks symbolizing ourselves. It's a neat twist on Shakespeare."
Butterhof said the choice to partially obscure her and others' faces has been a test of their acting abilities.
"Your voice is going to have to convey all your emotions, your lower facial expressions as well as your body language will have to tell the story," Butterhof said.
The students have been rehearsing frantically after school for weeks, often staying in the auditorium well into the evening hours, Hughes said.
Shakespeare's works, with their elaborate plotlines and intricate scripts, often require this sort of dedication to be successful, Garrison said.
And despite their youth, the students already have more than proven they can manage this task.
"The big thing is lines, especially learning Shakespeare and memorizing Shakespeare," Garrison said. "I just have a world of admiration for these kids. Luke and Aaron and Nathan and everybody, they're playing lead roles in a Shakespearean drama, and they have quite a bit to learn, and they're doing great."
Contact Braden Campbell:
If you go
What: The Emanon Players' production of 'Julius Caesar'
When: 7 p.m. Nov. 30 and Dec. 1; 3 p.m. Dec. 2
Where: Absegami High School Performing Arts Center, 201 S. Wrangleboro Road, Galloway Township.
How much: $10 for adults, $8 for students and seniors.
More info: Call 609-404-2061 or visit absegami.net.