Rutgers Theater Company presents William Shakespeare’s "The Tragedy of Julius Caesar"

Some things never change, especially when it comes to politicians.

The power grabs and egomaniacal actions of political leaders the world over are as real today as they were in ancient Rome—a frighteningly familiar story told in Rutgers Theater Company’s The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, running from Friday, April 25, to Sunday, May 4, 2014, at the Philip J. Levin Theater.

Shakespeare’s dramatization of the conspiracy to kill the ambitious Roman leader Julius Caesar by those closest to him is, at its surface, about betrayal, political turmoil, fear, and back-stabbing in the most literal sense. But, says director Moritz von Stuelpnagel, at its heart the story is a hard-boiled look at the flaws of humankind that have existed throughout time.

“Shakespeare didn’t have access to the same studies of psychology that we have,” Stuelpnagel says, “but there is this resonance of things like posttraumatic stress disorder, complexes of guilt and disassociation, and repression that emerge in the story.”

Despite its title, the play’s central characters are Brutus, Caesar’s closest friend, and Cassius, Brutus’ manipulative brother-in-law, who convince themselves and others that their leader has gotten too powerful. They conspire to take Caesar down—for the good of the people, of course—setting into motion a drastic plan with lasting consequences.

It’s a story, Stuelpnagel says, that “bridges beyond any one moment in history.”

“This is what Shakespeare is good at—identifying the human experience in these epic stories,” he says. “The events are heightened, but the roots of those tensions are something that we feel in our current society.”

The performance marks a homecoming for student-actors who have spent the past year at the Rutgers Conservatory at Shakespeare’s Globe in London. There, they performed Julius Caesar at the open-air Globe, a reproduction of the theater used by Shakespeare for his own company in the 16th century. Most actors will be playing different parts than they did in London, allowing for even more understanding of the language and themes of the work.

“This is really a culmination of a year’s worth of work,” Stuelpnagel says.

And while the story of Caesar’s assassination is known to many a friend, Roman, and countryman, there’s an entire second half of the play that deals with the psychological aftermath. That, says Stuelpnagel, is where the real tragedy lies.

“Murder isn’t abstract. Murder is a very visceral, potentially traumatic, divisive action that changes [a person],” says Stuelpnagel. “This is certainly not a play about love.”

The Tragedy of Julius Caesar runs from Friday, April 25, through Sunday, May 4, 2014, at the Philip J. Levin Theater. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and at 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $25 for the general public, $20 for Rutgers alumni and employees and seniors, and only $15 for students with valid ID. The Philip J. Levin Theater is in the Mason Gross Performing Arts Center, 85 George Street (between Route 18 and Ryders Lane), on the Douglass Campus of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, in New Brunswick. For more information about any Mason Gross event, visit www.masongross.rutgers.edu or call the Mason Gross Performing Arts Center ticket office at 848-932-7511.

Posted April 2014