Hart House Theatre is currently performing Portia’s Julius Caesar, written by Kaitlyn Riordan and directed by Eva Barrie. Torontonicity was invited to the opening night of the show, which is on until November 30, 2019, and treated to one of the most gorgeous shows we’ve seen to date at this University of Toronto theatre house.
The play is inspired by, and adapted from, works of William Shakespeare, but focuses on Portia, who is the wife of Brutus – one of the key players in the assassination of Julius Caesar. The political turmoil playing out in Rome directly impacts the relationship between Portia and her husband, Brutus; Portia wishes to be included in and informed about Brutus’s plans, but then spends the entire play suffering the consequences of not being informed about what to expect next.
I have to start by commending the gorgeous backdrop created by Set Designer Rachel Forbes, and Lighting Designer Chris Malkowski. This may seem like a strange starting point, but the aesthetics of the entire play are stunning: clean and minimalist but saturated in the most beautiful colours during moments of emotional intensity.
The set itself consists of (almost) floor-to-ceiling marble columns on small platforms that flank a few steps that lead toward a marble-like doorframe. The beauty and elegance of this simple design don’t become obvious until after the death of Caesar, when chaos falls upon Rome. The base of each column can be moved, leaving a jagged break between the top and bottom half. Once separated, the set resembles ruins from a fallen temple, or architectural remnants that have survived a great war. It is an effective, beautiful, and genius way to mark the shift in mood of the play.
As mentioned before, lighting in Portia’s Julius Caesar was brilliant, as the use of colour alone added a breathtaking visual element to every scene. There were moments where pinks and purples were partnered in scenes in such a manner that characters moving across the stage had a dream-like quality that one can only imagine accompanies such a tumultuous time as the assassination of a political leader. I’d also like to compliment Malkowski for brilliantly conveying the movement of fire, without needing any tangible materials. Absolutely stunning!
The use of jewel-toned lights complemented the costumes as well, which were designed by Julia Kim. Characters were dressed in beautiful tones of teal and purple, with pops of red and mustard, depending on their role in society. The fabrics had that signature drapery that we now associate with the Roman Empire, with a modern twist that allowed a touch of modernity to exist within each scene.
The music of Portia’s Julius Caesar at Hart House Theatre was subtle but incredibly effective. Cast members lingered off to the sides in the seats and chanted in unison during transitions between scenes. The chants were occasionally accompanied by drums, and each element was used to convey the violent chaos of the uncertainty felt in the streets of Rome, as well as the longing and sadness felt by characters like Calpurnia – wife of Caesar, played brilliantly by Whitney K. Ampadu.
Another fantastic cast member was athena kaitlin trinh, who played the lead role of Portia. The emotional turmoil felt by the character runs from one extreme of feeling isolated and excluded to sheer frustration and complete sorrow. The role appears emotionally draining, but trinh does a fantastic job of luring the audience into the uncomfortable space, allowing everyone to breathe within the moment and really feel each sentiment. A stellar job by trinh, even in the most heart wrenching of moments.
Portia’s Julius Caesar at Hart House Theatre runs until November 30, 2019. Tickets are Adults $28, Seniors $20 and Students $15. On Wednesdays, student admission is $12. Book online and pick up tickets at the Hart House Theatre Box Office before the show.
You might be interested in reading my review, “The Rocky Horror Show at Hart House Theatre“.