SPECIAL REVIEW: Wolf Manor Presents: 'Caesar'
As a general policy here on the site, I keep almost all posts about film and television - among other things, those topics are more than enough to keep me occupied. But I did have the good fortune to catch a fresh performance last night of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, and if for no other reason than wanting to share my thoughts with you, I’m relaxing the rules and offering you the following one-time theatre review.
It’s a unique privilege to observe a brand new theatre company form before your eyes. There’s an infectious feeling of invincibility in the event, as if the group has only just pulled itself out of the primordial ooze, and now shouts out its plans to conquer the world.
That was the feeling last night in Toronto, when I caught a performance of Caesar by the newly-founded company Wolf Manor Presents. Launched by three actors at the Ryerson Theatre School, the company plans to focus on “simplicity and stylization of design, tied to raw and visceral performance”. And from what the group presents in their inaugural production, those very things are on display, with an emphasis on the raw and the visceral.
The performances (which run until Saturday evening at the Abrams Studio on Gerrard St. East) are held in a challenging venue. What was apparently once a pharmacy school has now become a playing space, and two large pillars stand in the middle of the stage area, flanked on three sides by rows of seats. And yet Caesar’s director, Dylan Brenton, does the best he can with the obstacles, draping a large piece of cloth from one pillar to form different set pieces.
The audience sits perilously close to the action, but that only plays into the feeling that you are right among the action, especially as players storm on- and offstage not three feet from your seat. The proximity also offers the chance at cinematic-quality close-ups of actors’ faces, which in turn feeds the intimacy of the show.
All the better, then, that Brenton’s cast has the fire to make that closeness worthwhile. Of particular note are Konstantina Mantelos (as Julius Caesar, Portia, and several supporting characters) and Hugh Ritchie (as Marc Antony and several more secondary faces). Both Mantelos and Ritchie show their strong grip on Shakespeare’s language, and both hint at an inner wildness that helps reinforce their characters’ history as fierce allies.
That shouldn’t diminish the contributions of their three fellow cast members, who all do remarkable work keeping their assigned characters straight (the cast numbers only five, but portray thirty different people).
James Karfilis (Cassius, among others) is fervent and wild-eyed as one of the main conspirators against Caesar. Tom Sinclair is his counterbalance as the measured Brutus, and does well to to remind us of his character’s background as a member of the Stoic school. At the same time, Anna Fraser brings out a sort of youthful uncertainty in her Octavius, a smart way to distinguish the character from his more brash incarnation in Shakespeare’s later play Antony and Cleopatra.
The play clips along (too quickly, in some cases) at a trim 90 or so minutes. Brenton states in his director’s message that the show is meant to pick up on how public figures can be distorted by the image presented to the masses. While that idea can be felt in certain scenes, it’s possible that with a bit more breathing room, the argument would have truly found its mark. Information certainly moved quickly in the ancient world, like it does today, but to thoroughly examine concepts like perception and public opinion, we may not need to move at the pace of a breathless Roman messenger.
Even so, what does this production of Caesar leave you with as you exit the theatre? For me, it was the appreciation of all the potential this new, energetic group has to offer. My mind is already jumping ahead to how they might eventually take all this raw theatre and season it with experience and ideas.
Caesar runs Friday, June 20 at 8 p.m., and Saturday, June 21 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. at the Abrams Studio Theatre, 46 Gerrard St. E., Toronto.