Democracy under siege

Invictus Theatre Company delivers a solid, sometimes stirring, and strikingly relevant rendition of William Shakespeare’s 1599 tragedy. It’s the story of Marcus Brutus (played by Invictus artistic director Charles Askenaizer, who also directed), a well-intentioned aristocrat in the waning days of the ancient Roman Republic, who joins a plot by his fellow senators to assassinate the political and military leader Julius Caesar (Chuck Munro), who Brutus fears is becoming a tyrant. Rather than calming Rome’s political polarization, the murder backfires when Caesar’s loyal friend, Marc Antony (Mikha’el Amin), rouses the people’s rage against the self-proclaimed “liberators” with an impassioned funeral oration. Mob violence escalates into civil war; the result, after all the blood is shed, is the establishment of the very imperial system of government that Brutus kills—and dies—trying to prevent.

Julius Caesar Through 11/20: Mon, Thu-Sat 8 PM, Sun 3 PM, Reginald Vaughn Theater, 1106 W. Thorndale,, $35 (seniors and students with valid ID $30)

The 16 non-Equity actors in this intimate storefront staging mostly handle the dense, rigorously rhythmic text skillfully, bringing both clarity and musicality to the long-phrased verse. Particularly good are Askenaizer as Brutus, Daniel Houle and Joseph Beal as his coconspirators Cassius and Casca, and John Chambers as Caesar’s nephew and heir Octavius, shrewdly allying himself with Antony in order to position himself to become the first Emperor of Rome.

With the U.S. Capitol insurrection of January 6, 2021, clearly in mind, this three-hour modern-dress production features “Hail to the Chief” played when Caesar enters and people chanting “Lock them up!” and waving the star-spangled banner and a “Don’t Tread on Me” flag. Sometimes (especially at the end), this directorial commentary gets a little too obvious, to the detriment of the drama—but I won’t challenge the accuracy of the analogy between the dangerous demagogic politics of 44 B.C. and 2022 A.D. The tragedy of Julius Caesar is not just Caesar’s or Brutus’s, but democracy’s, and we ignore that at our peril.

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