Todd Jonathan Fletcher's adaptation of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar is subtitled ``The Rise and Fall of a Wall Street Star.'' Updated to the financial jungle of corporate backstabbing (ahem!), the Roman Empire is now Rome, Inc. with pin-striped conspirators.
Full Disclosure: it must be acknowledged that just a half-hour or so before the performance reviewed, the troupe discovered that all their sound equipment had been stolen, thus depriving them of all music and sound effects normally used in the production.
Bearing in mind how jarring it must have been for the cast to perform without so integral a part of the staging, it is still difficult to imagine how the sound tape would have saved so ill-mounted a project.
Setting the play in a modern context is fair game (as Orson Welles did so brilliantly by placing it in Fascist Italy), and even Fletcher's injection of a racist element into the conspirators' motives (Caesar, his wife, and Octavius are black) could have made for interesting new tension. Unfortunately, he seemed to think the concept would work by itself, propelling the production with its own cleverness. Carrying off this kind of theatrical time travel requires subtlety, nuance, a wedding of theme to action. Fletcher just let the updating hang out there in an overly obvious way.
Worse, in cutting the script down to just over 60 minutes, he has not so much streamlined the text as bastardized it. What remains is a ``Greatest Hits'' version of the play, with all our favorite catch phrases intact to sing along to.
As a director, he made a reasonably good visual use of levels, but most of his stage business was quite predictable to the point where one could almost call the blocking before it happened. Again, even considering how upsetting the loss of a soundtrack must have been, the actors showed precious little felicity with the verse, seemingly underdirected in it by Fletcher. In the title role, Zeb Hollins, III had a fine voice, but essentially strolled through the part (save for his ``Et tu, Brute!'', which he turned into a striking death chant). Adrian Witzke's Cassius lacked an interpretive edge, being neither lean nor hungry enough in his readings. As Brutus, Joe Paulson was unremarkable save for some ill-considered attempts to find humor in his meeting with Great Caesar's Ghost. Derek Lively overdid the nebbish act as Artemidorus but did make a suitably oily Octavius.
The only standout was Alice M. Gatling as Antonia. (Fletcher's condensation of the script merges Calpurnia with Antony, another groan-inducing choice.) She provided the evening's one true moment of inspiration. Delivering Caesar's funeral oration, she utilized the cadences of the African-American church. It was an intelligent and invigorating way to attack the verse, and slyly showed what kind of double-edged rhetorical sword such delivery is and how moral exhortation can morph almost imperceptively into naked demagoguery. (Imagine Martin Luther King turning into Al Sharpton.)
Beowulff Boritt's set design made for a good metaphor for the production. All polished black marble with cylindrical desks, sliding doors, and coin plaques of various characters, it was handsome to look at, but whatever ephemeral charm it had was purely superficial.Box Score:
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