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Get thee to the Center House!

Seattle Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar is rowdy and rousing

“That’s powerful!” My wide-eyed 11-year-old looks a little stunned as the lights go out after Act One of Seattle Shakespeare Company’s Chamber Julius Caesar. Who can blame her? After all, she’s just seen murder and betrayal of the highest order, acted so passionately that at times she seemed literally flattened to the back of her seat.Shakespeare

But this version of the Bard’s famous paean to power and freedom has even more to offer a budding Shakespeare enthusiast: director Gregg Loughridge offers a wild and unexpected ride, loaded with touches of humor, audience participation, and moments of startling dissonance.

From the moment the first actor strolls on stage (the delightfully animated Brandon Simmons), you realize you’re not in for an ordinary show. From the get-go, Simmons’ Casca turns the audience into actors in the play - “noble Romans” who are called upon to cheer, boo, even recite lines printed in the program. On opening night, Jan. 4, the crowd really got into it, including my enchanted daughter, who was no doubt expecting nothing like this (largely due, I suspect, to my well-meaning pep talk beforehand).

Along about the time I was singing, “Oh bla di, oh bla da” with about 150 other newly-minted cast members, I began to really relax. Sipping white wine (yes – drinks are allowed in the theater!) and seeing my daughter’s total engagement, I thought, “Shakespeare should always be this easy!” Moments like these make weighty classics seem so…fun and accessible. Witness the priceless moment when Caesar barks “Here lies a troubled Rome.” He is saying this into a cell phone.

But there is no mistaking this spirited performance for a comedy. Caesar’s is a bloody story, mired in mutiny, scheming, and various stabbings. Andrew McGinn’s Caesar is less hot-blooded than coolly calculating; David Quicksall provides a buff and righteously conflicted Brutus. The head-back howl from David S. Hogan’s Antony, upon finding his beloved Caesar dead, literally sent chills up my spine.

In a brilliant casting turn, Hana Lass takes the roll of Cassius, and she takes it to a cellular level, so intense and potent is her rage and her lithe physicality. I was beyond pleased to see her pinning Cinna to the mat in a fight scene and standing up to Brutus in a towering rage. These are images of great power, especially to the little tween twisting her scarf in the seat next to me.

Chamber Julius Caesar runs about two hours and 15 minutes, with a 15 minute intermission (this is a shortened version -- hence the “Chamber”). It runs through Jan. 27 at the Center House Theater in the Seattle Center, 305 Harrison St., Seattle. Tickets, $20-$30; 206-733-8222; www.seattleshakespeare.org.

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