Vineyard Playhouse’s Shakespeare for Masses presents “Julius Caesar”

— Photo courtesy of Shakespeare for the Masses

The Vineyard Playhouse’s popular series Shakespeare for the Masses will conclude its fourth season this weekend, with their version of “Julius Caesar.” The troupe will perform at The Pit Stop, the popular new venue in Oak Bluffs: the Vineyard Playhouse building is currently closed for renovations.

The free show will begin at 6 pm – and finish by 7 – to allow The Pit Stop time to host a musical event afterward.

Shakespeare for the Masses always experiments with form. In previous shows, they have turned scenes into game shows, dance sequences, soap operas, and comic pantomimes. They’ve compellingly performed some of Shakespeare’s most intense duels and battles with wooden swords and cardboard cut-outs. They’ve played with audience participation — letting the audience vote on how a play ends, for instance, or how somebody’s name should be pronounced.

With “Julius Caesar,” however, they intend to include the audience’s active participation in a central scene that is usually performed with a large crowd of extras. As their Facebook page describes it: “What’s the use of doing a play about mob mentality if we don’t make full use of the available mob?”

Despite their playfulness, however, the troupe has always respected the great scenes and monologues in Shakespeare’s work, putting aside the silliness to let truly powerful moments be performed “straight.” “Julius Caesar” is full of such rich material and golden opportunities for actors. Although the performance runs under an hour, key scenes are retained nearly uncut, which is relatively rare in Shakespeare for the Masses.

The play includes one of Shakespeare’s famous monologues — the one that begins with Mark Antony calling out, “Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears” and then evolves into one of the most brilliant, slyest examples of political manipulation in history. It also contains what is usually referred to simply as “the Tent scene” or “the Quarrel scene” — an intense exchange between two leading characters that inspired Coleridge to write: “I know no part of Shakespeare that more impresses on me the belief of his genius being superhuman than this scene between Brutus and Cassius.”

The adaptors, Chelsea McCarthy and Nicole Galland, had toyed with the idea of doing an all-female production of “Julius Caesar,” but decided instead to mix it up gender-wise. Of the four “power figures” in the play (all of them written as male), Julius Caesar and Cassius will be portrayed by women, while Brutus and Mark Antony will remain men.

“Julius Caesar” features Jill Macy, Christopher Roberts, Chelsea McCarthy, Brian Ditchfield, Rob Myers, Molly Purves, Jihan Ponti, Xavier Powers, Nicole Galland, and Jamie Alley. And a stuffed animal of indeterminate species.

Shakespeare for the Masses presents “Julius Caesar,” 6 pm – not the usual 7 pm – Friday, April 13 and Saturday, April 14, The Pit Stop,Oak Bluffs. The show is free of charge (donations warmly accepted) and runs about an hour.