Monday, August 26, 2013

Theater Review: Julius Caesar -- Elm Shakespeare Company

Jeremy Funke and Paul Pryce. Photo: Courtesy of Elm Shakespeare.. 
A Brisk Julius Caesar in Edgerton Park
By Tom Holehan
It's a brisk and relevant Julius Caesar currently playing under the stars in New Haven's gorgeous Edgerton Park. The modern dress production is the Elm Shakespeare Company's 18th season offering and it lives up to the group's well-earned reputation of presenting fresh, no-frills productions of classical works. What a good way to close out the summer theatre season.

More than most plays in the Shakespeare canon, Julius Caesar may equip itself the best to a modern dress rendering. The political intrigue that involves brothers Cassius and Brutus who, worried that Caesar has become too powerful, plan their own coup with a military takeover could speak directly to the events currently unfolding in Egypt.
Co-directed by theatre legend Alvin Epstein and Elm Shakespeare Company founder and Artistic Director James Andreassi, this Julius Caesar barely stops for breath as nefarious plots are hatched and the brothers entice a cabal of willing murderers in their devious plan. Epstein and Andreassi understand that once the deed is done, the tempo must pick up: blood flows and retribution begins. Their production is played without intermission and comes in well under two hours. At times, it may be too fast but with commanding actors in most of the leading roles, this Julius Caesar still rules.

Andreassi has given himself one of the play's best roles in Marcus Brutus and he plays the conflicted warrior with great power and insight. Also fine is Damian Buzzerio whose Cassius nearly browbeats Brutus into his lethal decision while Tracy Griswold's smug yet regal Caesar makes you understand why he is able to sway the populace.
Paul Pryce's enthusiastic Mark Antony is a vital presence though the famed "Friends, Romans and Countrymen..." is rendered a little too obvious and quickly here for my liking. It lacks political savvy though Pryce is charismatic enough to make it somehow still work. In the large supporting cast Jeremy Funke impresses in no less than three roles but some of the smaller roles stick out by being played by actors with far less experience.

Elizabeth Bolster's well-tailored suits for the men and sharp clothes for the women define this modern-dress Shakespeare with style. She is also credited with the handsome scenic design which simply but effectively sets a stage for royal intrigue. Jamie Burnett's lighting works beautifully under a starry sky at Edgerton but I do question the use of a roving follow-spot to sporadically highlight an actor. It seems oddly out of place but remains a minor blip. This is still a strong, straight-forward and accessible production of Shakespeare's great historical drama.

Julius Caesar continues at Edgerton Park, 75 Cliff St., New Haven through Sept.1. Admission is free - donations accepted

Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com. His reviews and other theater information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website:www.ctcritics.org.

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