Performing Arts: Theater
June 16, 2017
Set in modern times, and accented by iambic pentameter, Oskar Eustis’s production of Julius Caesar spreads across the Delacorte Theater studded by fragments of large marble blocks designed by David Rockwell. Naturally, Shakespeare’s play about the final days of the great Roman politician, dictator and general—Julius Caesar-- sends up images of the current regime, I mean presidency. Here the public is restless, the senate is restless, and Caesar’s wife, Calpurnia (model-esque Tina Benko) is restlessly concerned about Caesar’s (Gregg Henry’s) life.

Edited down to two hours without intermission, Eustis whittled back a large portion of the rambling battle scenes and secreted rowdy Romans throughout the outdoor amphitheater audience.

The mixed cast, in every aspect of the word, includes the fine actress Elizabeth Marvel as Marc Anthony. Shakespearean strong man, John Douglas Thompson becomes a commanding Cassius, while Corey Stoll assumes the challenging role of Brutus--Caesar’s loving, but severely conflicted friend.

Triggering the central action, Caesar, standing before an adoring crowd, refuses the crown offered him by Marc Antony three times, strolling away victorious in the complete love of his people. But a soothsayer (the equivalent of ancient pundits) shouts to Caesar to “Beware the Ides of March.”

Disturbed by Caesar’s concentration of power, and mock refusal of the crown, leading senators determined to preserve the democratic Republic, decide to communally assassinate Caesar with one dagger.

In their fevered minds, this joint act democratizes the blame and in their fevered minds, will once again unify the country. But the plot backfires, in part, because (as we learned earlier this year) people are unpredictable.

Disturbed by bloody dreams, Calpurnia intuits danger, and pleads for Caesar to miss the senate meeting on March 15—the Ides of March. He refuses and in the penultimate scene, when all the senators converge, circling their prey, red blood spouts from Caesar’s body in unison with the senators’ screaming recriminations.

But once Marc Antony, Caesar’s devoted friend and celebrated general convinces the assassins that he must speak about his beloved friend during the funeral, the masses are stirred. In this famous soliloquy, Antony starts by applauding the senators—or so it seems. The famous opening line “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him,” gives way to the volcanic refrain, “But Brutus says he (Caesar) was ambitious; And Brutus is an honorable man.”

Each time that line is repeated, Antony disputes Caesar’s ambition, pointing to all the benefits accumulated by the public under his command. However, in the heat of the summer night, the on-stage mob shouting, booing and applauding, drown out Marvel’s eloquence.

In the end, Gregg Henry does not really need to imitate President 45’s gestures—Shakespeare’s words make the dilemma clear enough.

The Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park tracks the dawn of democracy and it’s complex, messy heritage.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis

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