DEATH OF A CHIEF Adapted from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and directed by Yvette Nolan and Kennedy C. MacKinnon (Native Earth). At Buddies in Bad Times (12 Alexander). To March 16. Pwyc-$25.50. 416-975-8555. Rating: NNN
Hey, Native Earth, don’t be timid. If you’re giving an Aboriginal spin to a great work by Shakespeare, bring it on big time.
Every time Death Of A Chief, the company’s adaptation of Julius Caesar, embraces a native element, the performance is near transcendent. But it doesn’t happen often enough.
The show opens with a series of chants and movement. Even the student audience I sat with became hushed as the performers went through their variations on ritual and transformed the energy in the theatre.
Throughout the work itself, the play’s fickle crowd’s responses to speeches in various native languages reflect the political tensions that dominate the play. Background images originating behind a scrim keep us attuned to the alternate aesthetic, and the battle sequence at the end of the play, choreographed by Siobhan Richardson, is spectacular.
Without more of these artistic twists, though, we’re left with an adequate reading of a pared-down text.
There are some good performances – from the dignified Monique Mojica as the ambitious Chief, Michelle St. John as the constant complainer Cassius, and Cheri Maracle, who gives furious intensity to Portia.
But Keith Barker as Brutus mostly yells a lot, and others in the cast betray their struggles with the text by speaking way too quickly.
Had there been more of Native Earth and less of Shakespeare, the company would have made this piece its own.