Julius Caesar takes on modern form at Baruch
Published: Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, April 24, 2012 17:04
From April 8 to April 22, internationally known The Acting Company is performing Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in modern dress at Baruch’s Rose Nagelberg Theatre.
The company’s production is an old messenger in a new suit. Their version aims to capture the political zeitgeist in Washington, D.C.
Shakespeare’s play is about power, and, according to director Rob Melrose, “we’re imagining a Julius Caesar that captures the energy and excitement of American politics of the last presidential and mid-term elections.”
Artfully utilizing computerized imagery, the play uses Occupy Wall Street protests as an expression of the nation’s “vox populi,” as Caesar, Brutus (William Sturdivant) and Antony (Zachary Fine) sway public opinion to their rhetorical artifices.
Bjorn DuPaty as Caesar is a dead ringer for Barack Obama, though a word of caution is necessary here: in today’s intractable and paralyzed American government, it would be a mug’s game to read Julius Caesar as a mirror image of our political system. Although viewed by his opponents as an extremist on the left, Obama has not set his sights on doing away with the US Constitution.
In a strong production, the ebb of will and the flow of resolve provide the play’s excitement, such that it stirs our attention to what is happening on the stage.
Well cast is the role of Cassius (Sid Solomon), a senator and Brutus’ brother-in-law. A born conspirator, his “lean and hungry look” unsettles Caesar, foreshadowing that he is nursing a feeling of discontent.
Caesar is right. Cassius is dangerous; he is the principal instigator in plotting to kill Caesar. Yet, Antony assures him that Cassius is “harmless.” The play is full of poor judgment by its characters.
Warned by a soothsayer “to beware of the Ides of March,” as well as by Calpurnia’s (Kaliswa Brewster) dream of a bleeding statue—foreshadowing the eventual assassination of her husband--Caesar decides to stay at home. Glib-tongued Casca (Ken Orton) easily softens his resolve, and the stage is set for his murder at the Forum, as Caesar sets out to accept the crown the people will offer him.
In the production, the murder takes place in Washington’s Capitol Building. It is cleverly conceived, with Caesar presiding over a Senate committee meeting. The assassins—seven in number: Brutus, Cassius, Casca, Trebonius (Ray Chapman), Metellus Cimber (Joseph Midyett), Decius Brutus (Noah Putterman) and Cinna (Whitney Hudson)—form a ring around their victim as each plunges a knife into Caesar. And last and “unkindest cut of all” is Brutus’.
Another error of judgment is Brutus’ decision to allow Antony to speak at Caesar’s funeral. Cassius strongly objects, for he knows that Antony’s honey tongue will turn the public against Caesar’s killers. He is overruled.
Sturdivant recites his funeral oration coolly and with a certain lethargy, which defines his character. Afterwards, in still another strategic mistake, he withdraws from the Forum.
Antony is quick to turn the tide in his favor. He calls upon the assembled mob to form a ring around Caesar’s coffin. The scene is a response to the circle of Caesar’s murderers.
In a highly emotional speech, Antony ‘s oratory aims to reduce the public’s confidence in Brutus. Whereas Brutus’ argument appeals intellectually to the populous on the basis of his honor, Antony sets his words on an emotional register to arouse the mob against Brutus and his cohort.
Anthony, like a lyre player, plucks on heartstrings. He is a spiritual lover; “my heart is there in the coffin with Caesar.”
Antony is clever with words: he works the crowd well; he does not call himself “noble.” He has the mob do it as he arouses pity for Caesar, hatred for Brutus. And if they do not respond to his emotional appeal, he plays the money card of Caesar’s legacy. Thus, his stratagem outwits Caesar’s killers.
In a stirring scene of mob violence, Cinna the poet (Caleb Carlson) is mistaken for Cinna the conspirator. He is summarily beaten and killed before a graffiti-filled wall plastered with posters of Julius Caesar, as though we had wandered into some contemporary ghetto.
Again, Shakespeare uses a parallel relationship to expose human failings.
Antony’s “nobility” is besmirched by Octavius’ consent to cut Lepdius (Noah Putterman) out of the division of the spoils of Ceasar’s crown.
Clever Cassius tinges Brutus’ “honor’ through the sale of offices. Yet, in spite of their quarrel, the two brother-in-laws are firm in their common cause to wage war against Antony and Octavius who have destroyed the Roman Republic.