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Julius Caesar by Elyse Sommer

Both Brutus and Cassius try to impose their will upon history, attempting to structure events as if they were each directing a play. . . Neither character's play succeeds. Shakespeare's play, however works brilliantly, as he shows us the tragedy of one impossible ideal sacrificed for another, and reminds us of the terrible moral, as well as social and political costs that must be paid for miscalculations
---David Scott Kastan, General Editor, The Arden Shakespeare
Graham Winton &  Earl Hindman
Graham Winton as Marc Antony & Earl Hindman as Julius Caesar
(Photo: Gerry Goodstein)
This is not the first modern dress productions of the play that is many high school student's first introduction to Shakespeare. It is, however, one of the most striking and relevant.

Karin Coonrod's directorial choices for this Julius Caesar make perfect sense -- from the streamlining the usual 2 hours and 45 minutes with intermission to a pulsing, straight-through two hour and fifteen minute to dressing everyone in dark business suits with equally neutral beige for the uniforms donned during the later war scenes.

The impact of the opening scene is stunning. Some dozen of the look-alike "Suits" are lined up like the chorus for a musical about Wall Street. That opening sends a clear message that the power brokers and citizens of Rome in March of 44 B.C. have their heirs among today's CEOs and shareholders as well as government leaders and the citizens manipulated by those with the most persuasive spin.

Daniel Oreskes & Thomas Hammond
Thomas Hammond as Brutus & Daniel Oreskes as Cassius
(Photo: Gerry Goodstein)
Julius Caesar (Earl Hindman), the CEO of this realm, stands out by virtue of his imposing size and his being attired in a military jacket and coat. When he speaks the General takes on the aura of a rather ordinary businessman. As some of the key men of the realm step forward to discuss their concerns about the effects on the democracy of Caesar's ambition the individual personalities inside the suits are revealed -- the thoughtful stubbornness of Brutus (Thomas M. Hammond), the assuredness of Cassius (Daniel Oreskes) and the highly emotional persuasiveness of Mark Anthony (Graham Winton). The last, begins his famous ".I come to bury Caesar" speech from the aisle, then mounts the stage for its rousing finale.

The leading players as well as those supporting them give vivid life to Shakespeare's portrait gallery of men under the strain of history changing circumstances. Some, like Curzon Dobell, deserve special praise for adeptly navigating several secondary roles. Typical of the Theatre for a New Audience Shakespeare presentations, every line is delivered with easy listening clarity. By occasionally freezing the non-speaking actors, while two or three speakers interact, this clarity is not only emphasized but enhances Ms. Coonrod's highly stylized grisaille vision.

In a play that kills off its title character about three quarters of the way through, it is important to keep the focus on BrutuS, whose reasons for betraying Caesar are so crucial to the assassination plot and its aftermath. While the play's two lone women with speaking parts -- Hope Chernov as Calpurnia and Kristin Flanders as Portia -- are dressed in the same colors as the men, Catherine Zuber has given them look-alike gowns rather than suits. Ms. Coonrod may have ditched the usual Roman togas, but she has not forgotten that we are in ancient Rome where what made all women alike was their lack of power and influence, even over their husbands' actions.

Douglas Stein's abstract set of moveable charcoal panels supports the look and feel of this Julius Caesar/ All is well lit by David Weiner -- though the blinding lights at the end of some scenes are as irritating as they are compelling. Mark Bennett, whose sound design has enhanced several recently seen plays, here adds the strains from a violin to the overriding metallic sounds accompanying the individual speeches and crowd rumblings.

Most high school students prefer the star crossed lover story of Romeo and Juliet to Julius Caesar, which some say has found its way into the school syllabus because it has no sex. This new, shortened version still has no sex, it's a lot more accessible and fun than those reading aloud sessions you may remember from your high school days.

Delacorte Outdoor Theater production--2000
Delacorte Theater in Central Park Julius Caesar
Young Vic production -- 2000 (London Globe)
Barbican Center--2002, also streamlined and without intermission
s Shakespeare quotations page with links to reviews of other plays by the Bard

Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Karin Coonnrod
Cast: Hope Chernov (Calpurnia), Kristin Flanders (Portia),Thomas M. Hammond (Brutus), Earl Hindman (Julius Caesar), Simeon Moore (Casca), Daniel Oreskes (Cassius), Graham Winton (Mark Antony); Also: Curzon Dobel (Soothsayer, Artimidorous, Cimu the Poet, Soldier), Justin Campbell (Cinna, Titinius)Michael Ray Escamilla (Popilus LenaOctavius Caesar), Andy Hoey(Octavius's Servant, Murellos), David Don Miller (Metellus Cimber), Michael Rogers (Decius Brutus), Matt Saldivar (Trebonius), Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper (Caesar's Servant Murellus), Jacob Garrett White (Lucius) and various members of the ensemble playing as citizens.
Kristin Flanders (Portia), Set Design: Douglas Stein
Costume Design: Catherine Zuber
Lighting Design: David Weiner
Composer/Sound Design: Mark Bennett
Voice Direction: Cicely Berry & Robert Neff Williams
Fight Director: B. H. Barry
Running time: 2 hours and 15 minutes, without intermission (the program insert states 2 hours-- but the performance I attended took another 15 minutes.
Theatre for a New Audiences at Lucile Lortel, 121 Christopher St. (Seventh Ave South/Hudson St) 212/ 239-6200 web site
1/14/03-3/02/03; opening 1/19/03. Tues. - Sat. at 7:30PM; Sat. at 2PM; Sun. at 3PM & 7PM All tickets $55
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on January 18th evening press performance.

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