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Julius Caesar by Elyse Sommer

 Denzel Washington as Brutus
Denzel Washington as Brutus
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
When Mark Antony, in his famous Friends, Romans, Countrymen speech, I am no orator, as Brutus is (Act III, scene 2) he's only half right. While this is one of Shakespeare's most powerful speeches, one which even the most problematic production can't destroy, Eamonn Walker is indeed not much of an orator. But then neither is Denzel Washington's Brutus.

The casting of actors whose enormous reservoir of good will goes a long way towards making theater audiences more diverse has met with gratifying results. James Earl Jones is a tremendously satisfying Norman Thayer in the current revival of On Golden Pond. And while Sean Combs lacked the experience to match his co-stars in A Raisin in the Sun, his Water Lee made up for that lack since it dovetailed with the character's shortcomings as the man he so desperately wants to be.

Denzel Washington may not be as seasoned a stage actor as James Earl Jones, but he was a stage actor before he became a movie star, and should be better than he is in this Julius Caesar. Still, we owe him a debt for taking time out from his more lucrative activities to help make Julius Caesar viable on Broadway. His awkward and uncadenced line delivery might be forgiven if he brought more fire to the character around whom Julius Caesar revolves. Alas, this is the most laid-back Brutus I've ever seen. News of his wife's suicide seems to make nary a dent in his composure. It's as if Washington is making a conscious effort not to outshine the less stellar ensemble with whom he shares the Belasco Theater's stage.

Mark Anthony and a Brutus aren't the only ones in this production who fail to do justice to Shakespeare's text. The famous "Et tu Brute" from William Sadler's fatally wounded Caesar is an almost comic throwaway.

With Colm Feore giving the one truly Shakespearean performance as Cassius, there are times when you wonder whether he's giving a master class to a group of actors all trained in different acting styles -- with Jessica Hecht (Portia) the most rewarding student. Despite the less than memorable acting, director Daniel Sullivan's production is accessible and easy to follow even without much familiarity with the play. He his crafts team have pulled out all the stops to ratchet up the blood and gore, with stabbings, mob violence and battle scenes to keep the audience wide awake (a women in back of me gasped loudly and quite often).

This production is not the first to prefer dark-suited to toga-clad Romans. There's also modern street gang attire for the mob scenes, riot gear and army uniforms for the post-assassination scenes. The physical setting is a cross between ruined Rome and bombed out Iraq. In the most misguided effort to bring home the play's relevancy, the senators' entrance into the chamber where they will do in Caesar is subject to guards with metal scanning devices. I suppose the failure to detect the knives they are all carrying is meant as an ironic comment on the effectiveness of our anti-terrorism practices, but its effect is ludicrous and diminishes the power of what follows.

At a time when one-person plays are everywhere and a cast of four is considered large, it's nice to see such a large ensemble on a Broadway stage. Julius Caesar, which is said to have made it to the high school required reading list because it has no sex. It nevertheless has enough excitement and food for thought to offset the lack of romance and without a doubt director Daniel Sullivan has made watching this Julius Caesar a lot more lively and entertaining than those dry high school English classes. Hail Denzel -- for making even a limited and imperfect Broadway run possible.

Julius Caesar, another modern dress version by Theatre for New Audiences
Julius Caesar, a very original production from Moonwork)
Julius Caesar, Public Theater
Julius Caesar (London Globe)
Julius Caesar (Another London production ) See our Shakespeare page for quotations from this and other Shakespeare plays, as well as links to other Shakespeare plays reviewed: Shakespeare's Little Instruction Book
Julius Caesar

Written by William Shakespeare
Directed by Daniel Sullivan
Cast: Denzel Washington (Marcus Brutus), Colm Feore (Cassius), Jessica Hecht (Portia), William Sadler (Julius Caesar), Tamara Tunie (Calpurnia), Eamonn Walker (Mark Antony) and Jack Willis (Casca). The cast also includes Stephen Lee Anderson, Jacqueline Antaramian, Kelly AuCoin, Ed Onipede Blunt, David Cromwell, Keith Davis, Peter Jay Fernandez, Seth Fisher, Maurice M. Jones, Ty Jones, Aaron Krohn, Quentin Maré, Christopher McHale, Mark Mineart, Dan Moran, Jason Manuel OlazáÕbal, Howard W. Overshown, Patrick Page, Kurt Rhoads, John Douglas Thompson, Richard Topol and Henry Woronicz.
Set Design: Ralph Funicello
Costume Design: Jess Goldstein
Lighting Design: Mimi Jordan Sherin
Original Music and Sound Design: Dan Moses Schreier
Special Effects: Gregory Meeh
Fight Direction: Robin F. McFarquhar
Wig and Hair Design: Charles LaPointe
Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes - including one 15 minute intermission
Belasco Theatre, 111 W. 44th St. (Broadway/8th Av) 212/239/6200
From 3/08/05 to 6/12/05; opening 4/03//05
Tuesday through Saturday evenings at 8:00PM, Wednesday and Saturday matinees at 2:00PM, and Sunday matinees at 3:00PM.
Tickets: $51.25, $81.25 and $101.25
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on April 7th press performance
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