Bridge Rep Delivers Minimal But Powerful ‘Julius Caesar’ (4.5 Stars)

‘Julius Caesar’ – Written by William Shakespeare; Directed by Olivia D’Ambrosio; Scenic Design by Esme Allen; Costume Design by Stephanie Brownell; Lighting Design by Stephen Petrilli. Presented by Bridge Repertory Theater at the Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont St., Boston through May 30.

You can do a lot with a little in theater if you’ve got the right people in place, as those who had the pleasure of seeing Bedlam’s Eliot Norton Award-winning production of “St. Joan” this past winter at the Central Square Theater can attest. And while Bridge Rep’s bare bones version of Julius Caesar may not quite reach the dizzying heights that “Saint Joan” achieved, it certainly confirms that good theater is less about the budget and more about the talent of the actors, director and creative team, of which there is plenty in this production.

The set largely consists of wooden chairs piled on either side of a story-high podium which serves (among other things) as the Theatre of Pompey where Caesar’s betrayers plot his demise and eventually slay him; the daggers used in the deed are sections of wooden chair legs; and there is nary a toga in sight (a detail that the company’s pre-performance marketing materials gleefully proclaimed) as the actors are dressed in modern street clothes. What we get instead is a powerful (and abridged, no pun intended) rendition of one of Shakespeare’s most recognizable works (standard high school reading by those of us in the baby boomer generation) delivered by a cast of enormously talented young actors in a way that is both compelling, fun, and most importantly – accessible.

This is readily apparent in the early scenes where the Senators gather to decide what to do about Caesar’s increasing popularity, growing “ambition” and possible crowning as king of the Roman Republic. The dialogue delivered by the acting ensemble is devoid of any pretense and so conversational that one nearly forgets that the action is set in 44 B.C., so it’s easy to follow the action with just a minimum of concentration. Bridge Rep’s Producing Artistic Director Olivia D’Ambrosio makes her directing debut (professionally, anyway), and gets the most out of her performers, led by Brooks Reeves as the doomed Caesar, Joe Short as the conflicted Brutus, and Tiffany Nicole Greene as Marc Antony.

As Brutus, Short seems genuinely vexed by his growing awareness that something must be done to keep his friend and compatriot Caesar from ascending to the throne, and his regret following most of his decisions that follow is palpable. Installing Greene in the role of Marc Antony was no case of stunt casting, as she brings a kind of regal wisdom to the character, making it an inspired choice. John Tracey is a fiercely intense Cassius, and Reeves gives a layered performance as the man who would be king. The cast is uniformly solid and Linsday Eagle and Anneke Reich add an almost eerie dimension to the production as the singing soothsayers.

At an hour and forty-five minutes (with no intermission), the production just flew by, and was also infused with humor, something which I did not expect. There will be a number of Shakespeare productions in the coming months in the area, but I don’t expect to have quite so much fun at them as I did with this one. See it. For more info, go to: