Review: Caesar (Wolf Manor Theatre Collective)

A troupe of five take on the many characters of the Bard’s Caesar on stage in Toronto

In a dank, creepy basement accessed via a back alley in Kensington, I sat down in a folding chair with a sense of wariness to see Wolf Manor Theatre Collective‘s take on Caesar. Happily, I need not have worried: dedicated performances from the five person ensemble carry the narrative in a tight grip.

This take on the play includes gender reversing most of the main characters. Switching pronouns is a relatively easy task, but more thought was put into changing other gendered words without marring the iambic pentameter, which is used in most of the text. For example, Marc Antony’s speech references the conspiracy to kill Caesar as conducted by “honourable souls” instead of “honourable men,” and Portia refers to Brutus as her “partner” instead of her “husband.”

The actors — Megan Miles, Maddalena Vallecchi Williams , Melanie Leon,  Kevin Kashani,  and Felix Beauchamp — all have sashes that are worn differently to indicate different characters. None of them ever disappears from the action for more than a minute to make a sash adjustment, but they reappear with poise, grounded in their new persona even if it is for one quick scene only. The dynamic between the five seemed palpable in the small space: I could almost believe that Brutus would kill Caesar while still loving her, for no crime other than what she might do with more power (something I have always found hard to swallow.)

The set design is minimal but effective. It consists of some blocks and some books, and the multiple entrances that a show with five people playing thirty characters, in the round, requires. The lighting, unfortunately, has some failings. In my seat near the entrance I constantly had a white light shining into my eyes. It was set on the floor across the stage and at times it was joined by a blue light, creating twice the eye strain. Some other lighting decisions seemed poorly timed, or altogether unwarranted.

Director Dylan Brenton seems committed to making Shakespeare accessible and maintaining dramatic tension. “Making Shakespeare accessible” is kind of a cliche, but it’s a fair goal, and there’s a flip side too: when you’ve seen as many Shakespeare productions as I have, they can become a bit of a snooze. Wolf Manor Theatre Collective has done The Bard in a way that excites me: I enjoy seeing young people cutting to the meat of the plot, owning the roles, and bringing enthusiasm to interpretation.

As far as I’m concerned, the only improvement this production needs is comfortable seating and more thoughtful lighting.