Turning the tables

Julius Caesar

By William Shakespeare
Directed by Joanne Zipay
Judith Shakespeare Company
The Mint Space
311 W. 43rd. St. (592-1885)
Equity showcase (closes July 22)
Review by Julie Halpern

(in repertory with Comedy of Errors, call for times)

Julius Caesar's timeless tragedy lends itself to most historical eras and locales, including our own. As in Caesar's day, men still control the inner workings of government, but it's easy to imagine this male-dominated sphere rapidly becoming an anachronism in the capable hands of Judith Shakespeare's powerful gender-reversed ensemble. Unflinchingly taking on even the bloodiest affairs of state, the female power elite make the same bad decisions men have made throughout history, with equivalent violence and gusto.

Caesar's assassination and the subsequent political and emotional fallout were courageously explored by director Joanne Zipay and her physically and vocally imposing cast. Zipay's direction (with the assistance of movement director Elizabeth Mozer) was visually thrilling, ingeniously utilizing every inch of the stage, but occasionally dragged, particularly at the end of a very long first act. Dan O'Driscoll's brilliant fight choreography was a highlight of the production, and it was gratifying to see women so skilled and confident in their execution of complex swordplay.

Jason Ardizzone-West's beautiful white and glass stark modern set reflected the edginess of the proceedings. Jaie Bosse's lighting was often blindingly bright against the white set during the storm and the final battle, and red light was used repeatedly to indicate bloodshed-a too-obvious device already seen in numerous classical productions this year. Shannon Ford's innovative percussion score was evocative and haunting. Rob Bevenger's trim, chic business suits lent a sophisticated touch and allowed for ease of movement on the layered platform set.

Leah Maddrie was an imposing yet extremely sympathetic Caesar. Jennifer Chudy was a wiry bundle of explosive energy as Brutus, galvanizing the audience with her sonorous speaking voice. Jane Titus was magnificent as Cassius, possessing a speaking voice of remarkable timbre and a commanding stage presence. Alice M. Gatling was a charismatic and mesmerizing Marc Antony, particularly riveting in the final scenes. Laura Standley's sensitive, high-strung Casca was quite appealing. Mary Andrews's Victorian gentleman Cicero was a quirky delight. Terre L. Holmes's Octavius lacked the monumental warrior's presence necessary for Caesar's heir.

While the actresses were given the the opportunity to play some of the greatest roles ever written, the small but pivotal roles of Caesar's and Brutus's wives were assigned to men. Antonio del Rosario was a sensitive and empathetic Calpurnia but failed to capture the character's prescience and intuition. Richard Simon's gentle, vulnerable Portia was an ideal foil to the intensity of Chudy's Brutus. (Note: Simon and Chudy recently played Brutus and Portia in a traditionally cast production)

The dedicated ensemble contributed strong work in smaller roles. With Tanisha Thompson, Judith Annozine, Naomi Barr, Ellen Lee, Eileen Glenn, Sandy Harper, Laurie Bannister-Colon, Anthea Fane, and Allie Rivenbark.
Box Score:

Writing: 2

Directing: 2

Acting: 1

Set: 2

Costumes: 1

Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2000 Julie Halpern