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LETTERS TO EDITOR
by Les Gutman
Julius Caesar is a natural for "Moonworking". Finding the contemporary resonances in the play is hardly unique; Moonwork has taken them to their logical extension: telling the story in the context of the present day American presidency in which television news variously illuminates, occludes and rethinks everything that happens, pretty much as it happens.
So we have live feeds, videotaped reports from the field, suavely produced political advertisements that package leaders in patriotic hogwash and the regular intrusion of talking heads who tell us what we are supposed to think. (In a particularly inspired bit of connectivity, the latter is rendered via The Artemidorus Group, in which the Sophist of Cnidos (James Wolfe) has become John McLaughlin.) Much of this comes to us by way of video projected onto screens on both sides of the stage. (Director of Video Photography Matthew Ranson, deserves credit for the highly professional, and realistic, quality.) Reflecting a different emblem of the present tense, The Soothsayer (Dan Snow) is a homeless man whose nonsense appears well grounded, and who seems to have an inordinate amount of power.
The text for this staging has been craftily (if at times sketchily) adapted by Director Gregory Wolfe and Gregory J. Sherman. The speech and demeanor of the actors has been updated to reflect its modern American sense, sometimes more successfully integrating the Elizabethan prose than at others, though generally with reasonable success.
Bill Gorman's Caesar is effective: a slightly crusty politician, surrounded by all manner of handlers and secret service types, and reappearing as a toga-clad ghost. But this play's title character functions as little more than exposition: the telling of the real story here is left to Brutus (Christopher Yates) and Mark Antony (Christopher Haas). Mr. Yates is especially strong, unveiling the complex moral quagmire of this "noblest Roman of them all". Mr. Haas, unfortunately, cannot match his foe, and is the production's greatest disappointment. Every school child knows Antony's famous funeral speech, and quickly comes to understand its irony. Yet in the rendition here, when Mr. Yates' Antony speaks the line quoted above, we take him at his word.
The conspirators Casca (Paula Stevens), Cassius (Mason Pettit) and Metellus Cimber (Ax Norman) are all well presented; the pivotal scene between Brutus and Cassius alone in the second scene of the first act is perhaps the play's best. The wives, Sarah Knowlton as Calpurnia and Mary Birdsong as Portia, are also quite fine, and in a special treat, Ms. Birdsong lives up to her name, performing a hauntingly lovely post-mortem song to her husband.
There are pleasures of another sort in the staging of the play's battle scenes. Jena Necrason's choreography, Ian Marshall's fight choreography, Andrew Sherman's sound design, David Sherman's lighting and Oana Botez-Ban's costumes (the soldiers appear in menacing-looking riot gear) combine to make a memorable impression. This highlights the collaborative nature of the creative team Director Wolfe has assembled, which has done notable work throughout this play.
Moonwork's projects are labors of love. Although, on the one hand, they make us wish for more than the show a year we get to see, they also make us appreciate the value of the extensive developmental process that underpins their work, and which is rare in New York theater.
Moonwork's Richard III
Mendes at the Donmar
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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