Review: Hear the Murder Under a Blood Moon in Caesar: A Surround Sound Experience
I read in my invitation to preview Caesar: a surround sound experience that the audio game should be enjoyed “anywhere in space, on a pair of headphones, under the moonlight”. I was immediately intrigued – but where can I find the clear moonlight on Manhattan Island? I briefly examined the roof of my building, before choosing the back patio of the Monument to Soldiers and Sailors in Riverside Park, where I have fond memories of Shakespeare thanks to Hudson Warehouse.
This new audio Caesar is not from that troop, but from Knock at the Gate, a new company formed during the Covid pandemic that produced an audio version of Macbeth last Halloween. As with this previous production, the product of Caesar will go to the benefit of the Actors Fund. The official race takes place May 25-27, coinciding with the “Blood Super Moon,” a lunar eclipse that causes the moon to appear red – as if it were bloodied by a gang of Roman senators.
I wanted to get as close as possible to that experience from the previous week, so I ended up listening to this excellent, clean sound adaptation (by director Joseph Discher) in Riverside Park under the watchful eye of my neighbor husband ( despite being transported to Rome, I was still in a NYC Park after dark and wearing his new noise canceling headphones). I am happy to report that the only one who was stabbed during this hour-long affair was the Roman dictator.
It would be Julius Caesar (Scott Wentworth), who returns triumphantly to Rome after defeating his rival, Pompey. General Mark Antony (Sean Hudock) offers Caesar a crown three times, but in an obviously public show of humility, he refuses three times (one shudders at the thought of what Caesar would have done with an Instagram account). Senator Cassius (Joel de la Fuente) and Tribune Casca (Mark H. Dold) are not fooled by this act. They know that Caesar will not be satisfied until he sacrifices the Roman Republic to his enormous ego. They hatch a plan to assassinate Caesar, securing the support of a reluctant Brutus (Derek Wilson) at first. But the joke is on them: ordinary people love Caesar much more than they love the Republic – and they especially hate arrogant senators.
I was happy to listen Caesar while gazing at the moonlit Civil War monument, if only to remind us of our own national aspirations for Roman glory. Discher’s cleverly shaved adaptation (which left me with none of the excised passages) focuses on the story of a populist selfish struggling with a entrenched aristocracy. While recent American history (and the largely misunderstood Trumpius Caesar in the Park) offers no indication, it is a story that is doomed to repeat itself.
The cast strikingly conveys the variety of fauna that inhabit the Roman swamp. With a sinister voice, de la Fuente captures the simmering resentment that drives Cassius to murder. Dold plays a world-weary Casca, and we can practically see him roll his eyes when he reports Cicero’s response to Caesar’s crown show: “Yes, he spoke Greek.” Wilson’s Brutus has a slight vocal fry, as if he’s still recovering from a hangover, which makes his initial reluctance to move on to the Cassius plot all the more plausible. Playing his wife, Portia, January Lavoy expresses the frustration of a trophy wife who has been left to collect dust for too long. She asks: “Do you stay but in the suburbs of your own pleasure?” And we can say that for this lot, there is nothing worse than living in the suburbs.
Under the direction of sound designer Leigh Roberts, the gentle roar of thunder or the bubbling of fountains underline many of these speeches. For the most part, this low-key binaural design has uplifted the mood and even raised hairs on the nape at times. Sadly, I couldn’t help but conjure up the image of football cleats in the soggy grass when I heard the disgusting murder.
My preview ended briefly after this dramatic scene, with Antoine’s muffled rage bouncing off the walls of the Senate Chamber. If Hudock’s “Friends, Romans, Countrymen” speech is as good as his “Cry ‘Havoc”, “listeners to the full version (only 95 minutes) will be feasting on the blood moon.
Click here to purchase tickets for Caesar: a surround sound experience.