by Terrance Mc Arthur
Brutus, “Friends, Romans, Countrymen,” Julius Caesar, “Beware the Ides of March,” Mark Antony, “Et tu, Brute,” and not a toga in sight!
What kind of Shakespeare play is this?
It’s Julius Caesar at the Woodward Shakespeare Festival, playing Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8 p.m. through September 14.
It’s the story that all schoolchildren used to be taught. A group of Roman senators, afraid that Caesar might make himself a king, lure the popular Brutus into an assassination plot on March 15 (the fifteenth of a month was called the Ides, so it was the “Ides of March”). Marc Antony (before he meets Cleopatra), joins with Augustus Caesar to do battle with the conspirators. Brutus still feels guilty about stabbing his friend, and he has bad dreams (which is where Perry White in the Superman comics got the phrase “Great Caesar’s Ghost!”), and then a lot of people die.
For the WSF, Erica Riggs has brought the play into 1960s Rome, where the men wear sharp suits. The armies are dressed in green T-shirts and pants, carrying around military firearms.
Brutus is the tragic figure of the play, drawn into the conspiracy by his love of Rome, not for the thirst for power that drives others to murder. Brutus sees Caesar as a danger to Rome, and Jay Parks makes him a good man in a bad situation, forced to deal with the consequences of his actions. Parks’ Brutus comes across as earnest and troubled, trying to do the right thing with the wrong people.
Gabriela Lawson is a powerful actress, and as Cassius, leader of the murder plot, she muscles through the action, manipulating Brutus to serve her purposes. Clad in a man-styled suit that does not hide her femininity (thanks to costume designer Johnnyangel Pineda), she leads armies and maneuvers minds with equal ease.
Mohammed Shehata has leapt from the part of Puck in this season’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream to the role of Mark Antony and stuck the landing with Olympic style and grace. His classic funeral oration for the fallen Julius Caesar (Richard Adamson) is convincing without being strident, powerful without being shrill.
Adamson plays it more reserved and stately than he did as Bottom in Midsummer. He is gently regal and confident in his power, and slightly crazed in his ghostly manifestations.
Brooke Aiello as Calpurnia, Caesar’s wife, is, as usual, a standout. Bridget Martin as Brutus’s wife is impressive. Patrick Nalty is classy as Decius and Messala. Aaron McGee offers several nice characterizations and managed to fight-choreograph battle sequences that echo everything from The Wild Bunch to Transformers.
It’s a great way to spend a late-summer evening in the north end of Woodward Park, and the show is FREE! Park admission is $5, but off-park parking is not far away. For more information, go to www.woodwardshakespeare.org, where reserved seating can be had for $10.
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