If Shakespeare got a gander at what's going on with his Julius Caesar at The People's Light & Theatre Company, the Bard would be all revved up. For this production, directed by Lou Jacob is a full throttle, high testosterone, go for the jugular battle cry. Let's just say it pretty much rocks. Shakespeare's tragedy, with a Second Act that could send you to dreamland (because Caesar has already been disposed of) in this production just keeps getting more and more exciting. That's right. To the end we are wondering who's going to fall on who's sword. And this is no easy feat.
Let's start with the magnificently austere stainless steel set by James F. Pyne, jr. A cage resembling great claws hangs from the ceiling over an oversized bronze head of Caesar. The face splits in two as Caesar emerges victorious to thunderous applause. The divided sculpture is then later arranged on either side of the stage like impending monoliths of doom warning the uncrowned emperor. The floor resembles the new silver grating of a subway station - the noisy clatter and clang of which reverberates through the vault-like atmosphere. The set, in bold strokes, like all the other physical aspects of this show has a tinge of Ancient Rome and yet even more powerfully evokes a feeling of timelessness.
The original music and sound by Lindsay Jones are another highlight and help to move and pace the show. Resembling not so much incidental music but Surround-a-sound that you hear at the Multiplex Movie Theater, the heavy drums and loud thunderous crowd noises get you right in the pit of the stomach. And it's a rush. This is not for the faint of heart because (as Christopher Guest says in "This is Spinal Tap") it's cranked up to "11". There was one pianistic interlude late in the play that didn't quite work for me and in another low key moment, (though I enjoyed the live voice and acoustic guitar) the lyrics of the Radiohead song that was selected were not up to the poetry of the Bard. I simply wanted more of Ms. Jones's exciting, "take no prisoners" compositions. The costumes by G.W. Mercier are much in step with the same timeless feel of Ms. Jones's original music. The long Edwardian-like jackets and walking sticks for the men seem post-modern. When the Senators dress for war, their black battle fatigues with long leather coats and jackboots give off a Fascistic insurgent look. Adorned with riot helmets, flak vests and big black and silver guns, they appear to be the epitome of intimidating modern warriors.
Stephen Novelli's Cassius is quite remarkable. A serpent, all wiry venom, waiting for the moment to strike, envy is his driving force from the beginning of the play until the end and we can see it running like a palpable river through his slight frame. Pierce Bunting is a large, looming presence as Brutus. His voice as big as his formidable stature he embodies the man torn by duty and love. The Second Act pits these two "dogs of war" against each other in a scene where you don't know whether they will kill each other or simply explode with rage and self-loathing. They are two murderers writhing in the hell they have created for themselves and it is fraught with tension and suspense. Yes, suspense, because no matter what Shakespeare has written, when two actors go at each other on stage like this you never know what might happen.
Marc Antony is portrayed by a scowling John Lumia who has filled his character with such outrage, such livid unspeakable anguish, that we accept the bloodbath which he initiates without question. The "I have not come to praise Caesar" speech is given in front of an echoing microphone and builds with a ferocity that is both frightening and exhilarating.
Tom Teti is Julius Caesar, the elder statesman, basking in the glory of his power and his hold on the masses. A little too smug, a little too secure, this Caesar never sees those swords, (cleverly concealed in the walking sticks) coming. Mary Elizabeth Scallen in her brief scene as Calpurnia, Caesar's consort, is regal and sophisticated - a true politician's wife.
Lou Jacob has mounted a bold, theatrical vehicle. And well it should be, as Shakespeare's tragedy is full of power, politics, vanity, ego, envy, murder, war and suicide -- bold subjects to be sure. Teenagers and young theatergoers who've never been exposed to the Classics would find this any easy way to get their feet wet. For this Rome is not a place where men mince about in togas and warriors strut around in laced up sandals, but a Rome where danger and brutality lurk in every corner. Much like the world we live in today.
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