Is power better than virtue? Shakespeare's tragedy of political betrayal and upheaval is as relevant for contemporary audiences as when it was performed in Elizabethan times. Beneath the deceptively rational society of ancient Rome lurks a dark side of ignorance, secrets, and fear.
After the most celebrated figure in the classical world, Julius Caesar, is murdered by his fellow patricians, pandemonium reigns, and his assassins, burdened with their own personal passions, unsuccessfully attempt to grasp power. The irony lies in that Caesar's ultimate successor turns out to be the only person not involved in the murder - Octavius, who claims himself as Caesar's spiritual heir, vowing to avenge his death. This production added a further dimension to the power struggle by casting women in the roles of Cassius and Octavian, as well as in supporting roles.
The performance was uneven with a variety of skill and experience among the cast members. Many of the likable actors were far too young to imbue the characters with the maturity necessary to make the situation truly horrifying. Director Courtney Patrick Mitchell's lack of specificity and focus hindered the actors from making the strong choices necessary to fully realize their complex characters. Throughout the evening, the actors seemed on the verge of exciting moments that somehow fell flat. .
Demosthenes Chrysan's Julius Caesar possessed a sonorous voice and expansive stage persona. Timothy Tait was a handsome and persuasive Brutus but was far too young for the role. Keith Allaway's sensual baritone voice and impassioned body language brought empathy to his work as Marcus Antonius, in a performance that gained in power and confidence throughout the evening. Anne Marie Higgins was a glamorous, passionate Calphurnia, Caesar's tragically prescient wife, and Janna Rosenkranz was sympathetic as Brutus's fragile, tormented wife, Portia.
Kristin Louise Kahle's portrayal of the intense, power-hungry Cassius was troubled with intonation problems and nasality, which detracted from her otherwise excellent performance. Karis Campbell's Octavius lacked the power and energy needed to be truly convincing in the battle scenes. Gretchen McGinty contributed beautifully focused work in her roles as the Soothsayer, Artemidorus, and other small roles. Paul James Bowen was a thoughtful Casca, dispensing snippets of wisdom - before inflicting the first of Caesar's "three and thirty" stab wounds. Jonas Abry, Matthew Bray, David Dean Hastings, Stephanie Potts, Gina Seghi, Charles Tocantins, and James Woodruff all offered solid performances in supporting roles.
Julie Verville's ingenious set design consisted of pillars fashioned from bed sheets, illuminated by Billy Howes's and Courtney Patrick Mitchell's evanescent lighting. Hassani Stanley's mostly black costumes were effective, and Rachel Russell's sound enhanced the eerie moodiness of the piece.
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Copyright 1999 Julie Halpern