Once again, this innovative ensemble has produced a creative interpretation of a classic play. Shakespeare purists, usually against any form of "tampering" with the Bard's work, might be pleasantly surprised and appreciative of this production. Julius Caesar, a tale of political intrigue, misguided honor and murder, originally set in ancient Rome, lends itself to a modern Mob setting; it was perceptive of Russ Camarda to make this choice for his adaptation. The story of Julius Caesar (Jay Michaels)'s absolute power over those he thought of as his supporters is still pertinently political. Eventually, the true feelings of two of his senators, Cicero (Andrew Westney) and Publius (Michael D'Antoni) emerge as they realize the extent of Caesar's greed and lust for power at any expense. Together with the conspirators against Caesar, Marcus Brutus (Paul James Bowen), Cassius (James T. Oligney), Casca (Chris Catalano), Decius Brutus (Tim Browning), Cinna (Travis Taylor), and Marc Antony (Russ Camarda), they plot to end his "reign" by killing him. Marcus Brutus was the executioner, and Caesar's last utterance, "Et tu Brute?", was heartfelt. Shakespeare puts this execution in the Forum (equivalent to today's U.S. Senate chamber); Camarda does not specify the exact location in this production. However, the surprise to Caesar that he had so many enemies was essential and was preserved. Marcus Brutus spends the rest of his life in emotional torment, rationalizing his actions in the name of honor for his country, constantly haunted by the ghost of Caesar. The trauma becomes unbearable for him and finally he has one of his followers kill him.
As previously mentioned, the change of setting for this production was commendable, but with a few exceptions. Because the Mob setting obviously requires the use of guns in execution scenes as opposed to swords (as used in the original text), it would have been better to omit all references to "the sword." The use of the Soothsayer, FBI (Robert Saunders) was effective; but the inclusion of FBI #2 (Gina Seghi) and the Capitol Club Girl (Miranda Zukowski) were superfluous. Camarda did a credible job of adaptation, necessarily excising some text and a few characters. The added dialogue was consistent with Shakespearean language. The roles of Calpurnia (Mary Elizabeth Micari) and Portia (Holland Sergent) were originally second-string, and basically still are, but were convincingly executed.
The performances of Michaels, Bowen, Oligney, Sergent, and Micari showed much depth of character and a tremendous respect for the verse. Camarda, perhaps due to his other roles in this production, lost out somewhat on the rhythm of the verse. However, Catalano, Taylor, Browning, Michael Fortunato (Octavius Caesar), Sid Hammond (Lucius), Neil Kleid (Lepidus), Saunders, Westney, Klein, D'Antoni, Seghi, Zukowski, and Josh Blemenfeld (Pompeii) were all totally credible. Given the limitations of the venue, Camarda's direction was most effective.
Margo La Zaro's costumes were perfect. Michael Fortunato's set enhanced the mood, and Amy Harper's lighting achieved the right effect. The sound design of the human voice was absolutely refreshing. Special mention must be made of the tenor in the opening sequence, Argun Tekant, who set the mood beautifully.
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Copyright 2001 Sheila Mart