As Julius Caesar closes at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, another production of Julius Caesar opens at Raven Theatre — the latter an all-female production from Babes With Blades Theatre Company. These two productions could not be more different from one another, yet complement each other well.
In my review of Chicago Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, I took issue with how the Battle of Philippi played itself out on Navy Pier; I have no such issue with how the Battle of Philippi plays itself out in Edgewater. The one guarantee at a Babes With Blades show is staged melee combat at its most ebullient. Violence Designer Libby Beyreis does an outstanding job guiding these galvanic gals through a series of brutal battles as the Triumvirs pursue the Liberators across northern Greece.
Costume designer Kimberly G. Morris has developed a completely original polycultural aesthetic for Julius Caesar. By combining the classical Roman dress with elements borrowed from ancient Persia and from India (and elsewhere), Morris has helped to lift this production out of the story’s specific historical context, allowing this piece of theatre to exist beyond the usual restrictions of time and place.
The ensemble is solid, and several performers distinguish themselves, even in small roles. Jennifer L. Mickelson’s looming Cinna, Ashley Fox’s wide-eyed Lucius, and Kim Fukawa’s panicked Portia all stand out from the rich background of ancillary characters.
Alison Dornheggen’s refreshing take on Casca is more magpie than hawk. Antony is played by Diana Coates with the cunning of a mongoose, the duplicity of a used car dealer, and the ambition of Icarus.
Julius Caesar is nothing without Julius Caesar, and as Julius Caesar, Maureen Yasko is really something. Yasko gives Caesar the look and feel of a contemporary leader who is even more simultaneously beloved and divisive than the leaders of today. Maureen Yasko gets my vote.
If Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar could be said to have a single lead character, then it would be Brutus. Kimberly Logan gives a wonderfully dynamic performance as Brutus. From reluctant conspirator, to leader of the conspiracy, to persuader of an empire, to general in the field, Logan’s Brutus is constantly changing, constantly becoming.
Without a strong Brutus, the last third of Julius Caesar would be reduced to an exercise in stage choreography; Kimberly Logan gives the Battle of Philippi scenes in particular the competent, confident authority figure needed to carry the dramatic weight of those scenes.
With a total budget no doubt less than what Chicago Shakespeare Theater pays its Artistic Director every month, Babes With Blades Theatre Company has created a production of Julius Caesar that is on balance equal to Chicago Shakespeare’s recent production of the same play. With fantastic fight choreography, an enchanting ensemble, and the praiseworthy performances of Maureen Yasko and Kimberly Logan, the Babes With Blades’s Julius Caesar rules.