By Trudy Whitman
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
“Julius Caesar,” one of William Shakespeare’s greatest tragedies, will be mounted in a family-friendly production in front of the park house in Carroll Park from June 28-July 2, July 5-7, and July 11-14. This is the fourth summer that the energetic Brooklyn company has brought Shakespeare’s work to the local park with the assistance of Friends of Carroll Park. Last summer Brooklyn crowds were delighted by the hijinks of “Twelfth Night.” The comedy was preceded by two tragedies, “Romeo and Juliet” and “Macbeth.” This past December, the company moved its act inside the park house with an inspired staging of the Charles Dickens classic “A Christmas Carol,” done as a 1938 radio play.
Smith Street Stage is the brainchild of Beth Ann Hopkins, the company’s creative director. A few years ago Hopkins had been in rehearsal for one of the leads in “Romeo and Juliet,” when the show was cancelled because of lack of funding. Not ready to put Juliet away, Hopkins contacted fellow actors with degrees from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and the drama schools of the University of Connecticut and Yale, proposing an outdoor version of “Romeo and Juliet” at a Brooklyn venue. The positive response of audiences to the production led to the realization, Leone explained, that “this was going to have to be part of my life from now on.”
For “Julius Caesar,” Carroll Park will become the setting of an empire in turmoil. Staged with little scenery and in contemporary dress, the company hopes to shed light on modern political ambition while portraying the events that led up to, as well as the aftermath of, what it calls “the most famous assassination in human history.”
The production is unorthodox in its casting of Caesar, with Sarah Dacey Charles playing the role of the powerful Roman leader. Charles, who has been on Broadway in “Les Miserables,”as well as in national tours of “Sunset Blvd” and “9 to 5,” revealed in an email that she doesn’t believe the use of a female actor to play Caesar is particularly significant. After all, she noted, in the Elizabethan era, men and boys played all the female roles, as women were not permitted to be on the stage.
“I think the main point to consider is that Shakespeare is writing about human nature,” Charles stated, “and that his plays have stood the test of time because he deals in bigger truths. Our production in its casting and modern dress is not trying to be flashy or trendy. It’s trying to tell the behind-the-scenes and very human story of politics and civil strife.”
Jonathan Hopkins, who directs the play with Jessica Weiss, said the decision to cast Charles was not a difficult one: “We just thought that Caesar needed to be striking; there must be something about Caesar that sets that person apart from the other characters in the play and justifies the success, fame, and notoriety of that character. Sarah was the actor who had that quality. For us, we saw the character in terms of a necessary quality instead of a certain gender and age. And Sarah’s a great actor, which made things easier.”
Smith Street Stage’s production of “Julius Caesar” has been pared down to one hour and 45 minutes with no interruptions. Live music composed specifically for the play by Ruark Downey will enhance the action and help the actors transition from scene to scene. All performances at Carroll Park, at Carroll and Smith streets, begin at 7 p.m. Audience members are encouraged to bring their own seating. Admission is free but donations are warmly encouraged. For additional information about “Julius Caesar,” tap out an email to [email protected].