Review: Julius Caesar (Brown Paper Box Co.)

| March 9, 2016

Amy Malcom and Jeff Kurysz in Julius Caesar          

Julius Caesar

Written by William Shakespeare 
Adapted/Directed by Lavina Jadhwani
Greenhouse Theater, 2257 N. Lincoln (map)
thru Apr 3  |  tix: $25  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets   


Gender-bending and thought-provoking


Brown Paper Co.'s "Julius Caesar," adapted and directed by Lavina Jadhwani. (photo credit:

Brown Paper Box Co. presents
Julius Caesar

Review by Lauren Whalen 

Shakespeare can be done on a shoestring, and we live in explosive political times. Brown Paper Box Co.’s Julius Caesar takes these two tenets and makes the most out of them. The eight-person cast is diverse in race and gender, and acclaimed director Lavina Jadhwani guides her cast in intelligent choices from beginning to end. This Julius Caesar defies normalcy, but doesn’t disregard it, adding a richness to the inner struggles of antihero Brutus and challenges to ever-loyal Marc Antony. The audience at Sunday’s matinee was small but mighty, and I can only hope it will grow throughout the production’s month-long run.

Dan Toot and Susan Myburgh in Brown Paper Co. presents "Julius Caesar," adapted and directed by Lavina Jadhwani. (photo credit: In 45 B.C., Julius Caesar (Amy Malcolm) is on top of the world, triumphant from civil war with loving spouse Calphurnia (Dan Cobbler) at her side. Caesar deeply trusts associates Brutus (Jeff Kurysz) and Cassius (Dan Toot), but the two men are suspicious of Caesar’s rule and sway over Rome. Would things be better if Caesar weren’t around? Fast forward to the infamous Ides of March, when a deadly conspiracy results in Caesar’s murder. Caesar’s best friend Marc Antony (Vahishta Vafadari) is spared, but grief-stricken and hell-bent on revenge, and Brutus’ conscience may be getting the best of him…

By casting a woman in the role of Caesar, not to mention two Caucasian men as Caesar’s primary assassins, Jadhwani reflects our current political climate, rife with misogyny at the hands of white male leaders. But this is more than stunt casting or a blatant statement: it works, and it works well. Jadhwani boasts a lengthy and impressive resume, and every bit of her education and experience is at play in Julius Caesar. Jadhwani’s pacing is quick, her staging smart, her actors strong and capable. The one misstep of director and actor alike is Susan Myburgh’s Portia, who comes across as over-the-top and screechy in her one pivotal scene.

This Julius Caesar is presented with the ultimate simplicity: there are only two set pieces, and six of the eight actors play multiple roles while clad in jeans and T-shirts, black boots and red and purple sashes used in a myriad of ways. Some of the production values aren’t as well-executed as others. Sara Heymann’s set is hit or miss: the “marble” platforms work well, but the painted brick wall looks like cardboard and is completely unnecessary. Similarly, Gary Nocco’s costumes work better in theory than in execution, as the T-shirt color is unflattering on literally every actor. The idea of simplicity (not to mention the concept of gender-bending) may have worked better if the actors had worn different articles of black clothing.

 Jeff Kurysz, Brown Paper Co. presents "Julius Caesar," adapted and directed by Lavina Jadhwani. (photo credit:  Vahishta Vafadari, Abie Irabor, Amy Malcom in "Julius Caesar," adapted and directed by Lavina Jadhwani. (photo credit: T.J. Anderson and Jeff Kursyz, Brown Paper Co. presents "Julius Caesar," adapted and directed by Lavina Jadhwani. (photo credit:  Amy Malcolm and Dan Cobbler in Julius Caesar

Set and costume issues aside, Julius Caesar is compelling, thanks in large part to Jadhwani’s wise direction, exciting fight choreography courtesy of Vafadari and Tyler Esselman, and a skillful ensemble. Abie Irabor stands out in multiple roles, including conspirator Casca, and Malcolm shines as Caesar and as minor characters in the play’s second half. Toot, whose credits include Chicago Shakespeare Theater, is utterly at home with Shakespearean text, with every vocal inflection squarely on point. Kurysz, a staple of the local theater scene, perfectly embodies Brutus’ growing angst. And Vafadari is the production’s true star. She delivers Antony’s iconic speech with stirring energy and as Brutus’ lovable but clueless servant, light comic relief that’s both appropriate and deeply necessary.

I’m still thinking about Julius Caesar nearly a full day after viewing it. As America descends into voting season, choosing Presidential candidates and fighting for civil rights centuries after such battles should have ended, Shakespeare’s play is more relevant than ever. Do yourself a favor and see Brown Paper Box Co.’s adept, haunting production. It’s important in more ways than one.

Rating: ★★★½

Julius Caesar continues through April 3rd at Greenhouse Theater, 2257 N. Lincoln (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays 2pm.  Tickets are $25, and are available by phone (773-404-7336) or online through (check for half-price tickets at More information at time: 2 hours, includes an intermission)

Brown Paper Co. presents "Julius Caesar," adapted and directed by Lavina Jadhwani. (photo credit:

Photos by Zach Dries




T.J. Anderson (Octavius), Susan Myburgh (Portia), Dan Toot (Cassius), Vahishta Vafadari (Marc Antony), Dan Cobbler (Calphurnia), Abie Irabor (Casca), Jeff Kurysz (Brutus), Amy Malcolm (Julius Caesar), Sophie Scanlon, Justin Harner (understudies)

behind the scenes

Lavina Jadhwani (director, adaptor), Charles Askenaizer (assistant director, dramaturg), Connor Ciesil (sound design), Kaitlyn Guerrieri (stage manager), Sara Heymann (set design, properties), Gary Nocco (costume design), M. William Panek (casting), Charlie Sheets (graphic design), Nick Shoda (press and media), Eric Vigo (lighting design), Damian Wille (production manager), Tyler Esselman, Vahishta Vafadari (fight choreographers), Ryan McCabe, Zach Dries (photographers)


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Category: 2016 Reviews, Adaptation, Brown Paper Box Co, Greenhouse Theater Center, Lauren Whalen, William Shakespeare

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