Coming off his groundbreaking “Voodoo” Macbeth, done in Harlem in 1936 as part of the Federal Theatre Project (a New Deal program, part of the Works Progress Administration), Orson Welles mounted a modern-dress production of Julius Caesar at New York City’s Mercury Theatre in 1937.
If the Macbeth was voodoo because of its quasi-Haitian setting, then this could be called a Fascist Caesar as it was set in a contemporary Italy under the rule of Mussolini. Welles directed the production and starred as Brutus, while John Houseman (yep, he of The Paper Chase) produced. Members of what would become Welles’ Mercury Theatre players (and who would appear in his film) also starred, including Joseph Cotten.
Beyond the use of modern dress and a heavily edited text which ran only two hours, the production was striking for its innovative set by Samuel Leve and lighting design by Jean Rosenthal.
Here are some photos from the production.
It ran for 157 performances from November 11, 1937 into March of 1938. Its success cemented the reputation of the then 22 year-old Welles.