A highly styled ‘Julius Cae­sar’

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - —Mar­garet Gray

A Noise Within’s new pro­duc­tion of “Julius Cae­sar” has plenty of style. Or rather, plenty of styles: bold but ran­dom de­sign el­e­ments that com­pete for at­ten­tion with the sub­stance.

The story is set on a con­tem­po­rary con­struc­tion site (de­signed by Fred­er­ica Nasci­mento), where char­ac­ters leap among the plat­forms of gi­ant wheeled scaf­folds hung with plas­tic tarps.

The leap­ing seems es­pe­cially risky since cos­tume designer An­gela Balogh Calin has dressed the en­tire cast in iden­ti­cal dark, floor­length coats. She ac­ces­sorizes th­ese mys­te­ri­ous gar­ments with di­verse head­gear: knit­ted skull­caps, top hats, World War II army caps.

Di­rec­tors Ju­lia Ro­driguez-El­liott and Ge­off El­liott open their am­bi­tious, fre­quently en­ter­tain­ing pro­duc­tion with a meta-the­atri­cal flour­ish: Cast mem­bers thun­der onto the set from the aisles, shout­ing lines, then pause to dis­play card­board rec­tan­gles bear­ing their char­ac­ters’ names. “Don’t worry,” they seem to be re­as­sur­ing us. “We know that this old play is over-thetop, and we’re go­ing to do it in a fun, kitschy way. You won’t have to get emo­tion­ally in­volved.”

Maybe it’s not pos­si­ble to play “Julius Cae­sar ” straight; maybe even in Shake­speare’s time it was a gory, guilty plea­sure. Mark Antony’s fa­mous “Friends, Ro­mans, coun­try­men” speech has long been ad­mired as a master­piece of rhetor­i­cal irony, but it’s not par­tic­u­larly sub­tle. A child could fig­ure out how Antony is work­ing the crowd, which re­sponds like clock­work (and in uni­son) to the twists and turns of his cun­ning.

Here, Antony (Rafael Gold­stein) climbs into the cab of a Ge­nie aerial work plat­form and raises and low­ers him­self to comic ef­fect. He’s play­ing the scene for laughs, we con­clude, and we chuckle know­ingly as he turns the sus­cep­ti­ble pop­u­lace into his pup­pets.

Then some­thing mag­i­cal hap­pens: The lan­guage is so trans­par­ent and pow­er­ful, and Gold­stein is such a com­pelling per­former — he makes Antony’s strug­gle be­tween emo­tion and guile pal­pa­ble — that sub­stance trumps style for a mo­ment. We get in­vested.

It’s a trans­for­ma­tion that ought to hap­pen more of­ten than it does in this pro­duc­tion, which boasts sev­eral other strong and sub­tle per­form­ers: Robert­son Dean makes an ap­peal­ing, in­tel­li­gent Bru­tus, and Deb­o­rah Strang per­sua­sively turns Casca into that bit­ter woman in ev­ery work­place who gripes about the boss dur­ing cig­a­rette breaks.

Pa­trick O’Con­nell, who bears a strik­ing re­sem­blance to busts of the his­tor­i­cal Julius Cae­sar, plays the gen­eral as a slightly dim ego­tist and be­comes re­ally ghoul­ish in his af­ter­life cameos.

But all of the per­for­mances are ham­pered by the di­rec­tors’ de­ci­sion not to honor any “asides” in the script: Con­ver­sa­tions and com­ments in­tended to be pri­vate — overheard only by the au­di­ence — take place in the open. So Cae­sar com­plains about the “lean and hun­gry look” of “yon Cas­sius” (Freddy Dou­glas) right to Cas­sius’ face; and when Mark Antony, while pledg­ing his al­le­giance to the con­spir­a­tors, pauses to ex­plain to Cae­sar’s corpse that he’s just trick­ing them, he doesn’t even lower his voice. Such choices make the char­ac­ters feel more re­mote and im­plau­si­ble.

The stabbing scene is so styl­ized, drenched in Ken Booth’s blood-tinged light­ing, that it verges on par­ody. Ul­ti­mately this lively but scat­ter­shot pro­duc­tion, in­stead of bring­ing “Julius Cae­sar” back to life, buries the play deeper in the sands of time.

“Julius Cae­sar,” A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena. In reper­tory; see web­site for sched­ule. Ends May 8. $40. (626) 3563100, Ext. 1, or www.anoise­within.org . Run­ning time: 2 hours, 30 min­utes.

Craig Schwartz

CAS­SIUS (Freddy Dou­glas) greets Casca (Deb­o­rah Strang) in A Noise Within’s am­bi­tious “Julius Cae­sar.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.