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LETTERS TO EDITOR
Julius Caesar by Elyse Sommer
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.
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
CurtainUp's Shakespeare quotations page with links to reviews of other plays by the Bard
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by
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