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‘Caesar’ opens at Troutt Thursday

But Brutus is an honorable man.

Beware of the Ides of March.

Et tu, Brute?

As many high school sophomores can tell you, these three sentences are iconic lines from William Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar.” The Nashville Shakespeare Festival will produce this iconic play this month at the Troutt Theatre, but with a twist. Former Tennessee Titan and Ohio State running back Eddie George will play the title role of Caesar.

The show’s artistic director, Denice Hicks, sees this play as one of Shakespeare’s most relevant works.

“It connects us with our own humanity better than almost any other drama,” Hicks said.

Beki Baker will direct the festival’s play, annually held at Belmont’s Troutt Theatre. She also directed the Festival’s 2011 winter play, “Shakespeare’s Case.” The production also include a cast with many local ties. George accompanies actors such as Brian Webb Russell, who plays Brutus, David Compton, who plays Cassius, and Eric Pasto-Crosby, who plays Antony.

Despite his experience as a NFL All-Pro and Heisman Trophy-winning athlete, George is no stranger to the acting stage. In 2006, he made his stage debut in “God’s Trombones” at the Belcourt Theater in Nashville. Hicks had admired George’s determination and strongly believes in his credibility as an actor.

“Eddie has been developing his skills as an actor since he retired from football. Playing Shakespeare was something he’d always wanted to do and after coaching him in some Shakespearean scenes, I knew he’d be perfect for this role,” Hicks said.

His role placement had nothing to do with his notability and everything to do with his talent.

“He auditioned with everyone else and won the role through his own volition.  He has the presence, the look and the character to play Caesar,” Hicks said.

But the role of Caesar is no easy task. George put a lot of work into perfecting the part.

“Eddie has worked very hard and continues to strive every day to get better in this role.  An actor’s work is never done–especially when playing Shakespeare.  There are always more discoveries to be made, more depths of character to be plummeted and more meaning to be found in the poetry,” Hicks said.

Like every dramatic masterpiece, the show had its challenges, including accommodating the play for a small cast.

“The story is epic – a civil war among the Romans is difficult to portray with only 14 actors… The quality of the work should be along the standards of excellence that we’ve always upheld,” she said.

Despite the small number of actors, the show will maintain traditional Shakespearean appeal.

“We’ve edited the script, but not changed Shakespeare’s language,” she said.  “Shakespeare altered the original history of Julius Caesar for theatrical purposes, and we’ve taken some creative liberties with it as well. The primary goal is to tell this classic story using Shakespeare’s language, but to connect viscerally, emotionally and intellectually with a contemporary audience.  Every time a Shakespearean play is staged it is a unique experience.”

In a statement, Baker is quick to remind theatergoers why this Roman tragedy is one theater-goers should still find up-to-date.

“Because politicians are still corrupt.  Because people are still selfish.  Because, as Cassius says, ‘the eye sees not itself/but by reflection, by some other thing.’  We need our old stories because they speak true, and that truth serves as a mirror by which we can better see and know ourselves,” she said.

The opening night of Julius Caesar at the Troutt Theater on Thurs., Jan. 12. The play will be at Troutt through Jan. 29 at 7:30 p.m. on Thursdays through Sundays. Student tickets are $12 in advance and $15 at the door.

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