War games in New Swan's "Julius Caesar"

New Swan's 2023 production of Julius Caesar takes place in Rome, but with modern gender dynamics. Women play Caesar, Antony, and Cassius, and the togas are technicolor. In “Five Things to Look for in Julius Caesar,” Neah Lekan, the assistant director and dramaturg for this year’s production, gave us a handy guide to the production choices that make Shakespeare’s text come alive for us.

  1. The Lupercalia: The play opens during a Roman festival of purification and fertility recognized in February. Look for drunk plebeians, creepy wolf masks, and flowers on the floor.
  2. Assassination in the round: All Shakespeare tells us is “They stab Caesar.” Contextual and character work with fight choreographer Michael Polak led to our production’s fully circular assassination scene, composed out of telling moments that reveal the mindsets of the leader who died and the senators who killed him. 
  3. A world of props: look for the marble friezes fractured by civil division and a wartime conference table loaded with maps, messages, and a paragraph in Greek by the Stoic emperor Marcus Aurelius.
  4. Mob mentality: in Shakespeare’s play the people are easily swayed and have an appetite for monarchy. A mob kills Cinna the Poet (played by the same actor who plays Caesar).
  5. War games: the battles that end the play move quickly. To help keep the players straight, Team Antony and Ocatavius wear red and Team Brutus and Cassius wear yellow. 

Neah, a PhD student in English at the Johns Hopkins University, grew up in Irvine. Coming to New Swan productions, she shared, led her to become "a theater practitioner and a literary critic." And this summer has been truly transformative for her. "I learned more about theater in the space of five weeks than in all the years of my life before this,"she told the audience. We are lucky to learn from her!

See Neah’s talk here: https://youtu.be/aVaQd9X0Gj0 

Article by Jessica Rosenow, our summer intern. Photo by Jesús Enrique López Vargas, featuring Sean Spann as Brutus and Hope Andrejack as Cassius.


New Swan Shakespeare Center