CLARKS SUMMIT — Watch “Julius Caesar” and you’ll see just how fickle a crowd can be.
“People go from celebrating Caesar because he just won a victory to celebrating Brutus because he explains so well why he had to kill Caesar. Then they switch to Antony because he explains so well why it was wrong to kill Caesar,” said Rachel Luann Strayer, who is directing the play as Ghostlight Productions’ eighth annual “Shakespeare in the Park.”
Planned for June 3-12 at South Abington Park on Routes 6 & 11, the play retains all references to Rome, but audiences will soon realize the setting is not the ancient Senate where toga-wearing conspirators stabbed the powerful leader.
It’s more of a “modern-day Dystopia,” where the role of the soothsayer who predicts danger on the Ides of March is split in two and played by two actors. “They’re conspiracy theorists,” Strayer said, and the one wearing a gas mask is an ex-soldier whose stress “goes beyond post traumatic stress syndrome.”
“We decided years ago we wanted to do this play during an election year,” Strayer said. “That was long before we knew how this election year was going to shape up.”
It’s easy to draw parallels between the play and current politics, said Sarah Landstrom, of Scranton, who has the title role. “When you see how easily swayed public opinion is and the huge part the media plays, it’s really scary when you step back and realize that’s exactly what we do. We blindly put our vote behind someone without researching them because of what our friends say or what the media says.”
When she auditioned for the play, Landstrom thought she might be assigned the role of Brutus’ wife, Portia, or Caesar’s wife, Calpurnia. But Strayer, who describes the play as “about humans; anyone could have these emotions and motivations,” used gender-blind casting.
“There’s my Caesar,” the director told herself as she watched Landstrom audition.
While characters like Cassius, played by Laura Micelli in this production, saw Caesar as dangerously hungry for power, Landstrom does not agree.
“I think she has the best intentions,” Landstrom said. “She’s not trying to be a hard-core dictator. She is trying to rule with Rome in mind.”
Another fascinating character is Brutus, who reluctantly allows himself to be persuaded that, for the good of the people, Caesar must die.
“He’s one of the most complex characters I’ve ever played,” said cast member Jonathan Strayer, of Clarks Summit, who is married to the director.
Reach Mary Therese Biebel at 570-991-6109 or on Twitter @BiebelMT
IF YOU GO
What: ‘Julius Caesar’
Who: Ghostlight Productions
Where: South Abington Park, Routes 6 and 11, Clarks Summit
When: June 3 to 12 with performances 6:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. Sundays.