On a grim, dimly lit and smoky stage The Aquila Theatre Company brings us its dark, fascistic staging of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar at the Clark Theater in Lincoln Center. With only the occasional moment of humor we plunge headlong into this ultimate play of political intrigue. Through the plot and assassination of Caesar, the inevitable war that follows and the death by suicide of the assassins, we hear speech after speech and phrase after phrase that have become so familiar to us they are a part of our English heritage. And once again, I felt appreciation to the Aquila company for presenting classical theater in another well performed, intellectually provocative and coherent production.
The Aquila Theatre is a repertory company using American and English actors to perform classic theater. Since the company travels the United States with its troop of principal actors, whenever it chooses a new production decisions must be made as to who will play the various roles. In this offering of Julius Caesar some seem on target, while others miss the mark.
Robert Richmond, in the title role, has the stature and presence of a compelling Caesar. Apparent to the Romans, the Senators, the audience, and particularly himself, he was born to lead. Despite every sort of warning (rhetorical, mystical, political, and meteorological) pointing toward trouble to come, he fatally, could not believe in his own mortality. The key to his eventual demise and the key to the success or failure of any production of Julius Caesar is its Brutus, portrayed by Anthony Cochrane, in military attire. This Brutus is more of a conflicted military officer, rather than a contemplative intellectual. Should he or shouldn’t he turn traitor to his beloved mentor, Julius Caesar, on the day of his coronation? “It’s not that I love Caesar less, but that I love Rome more” is his final assessment of the situation. This requires the very important foundation of doubt evilly laid out by the “lean and hungry” Cassius. And there lies the problem with this production.
Louis Butelli, a fine comedic actor in The Comedy of Errors, can not credibly portray the resentful, sinister pivotal role of Cassius. His proposal to assassinate Caesar is the beginning of the downward spiral for the leaders of Rome. A strong Cassius, must have the intellectual ability to convince the “noble Brutus” that assassination of the potentially tyrannical Caesar is the only alternative to the subjugation of Rome. Without such a crucial portrayal, the other actors must work twice as hard to bring coherence to their roles. This gives Anthony Cochrane, as Brutus, limited opportunity to bounce his conflicted emotions and ideas off the play’s evil instigator. Although his novel approach to Brutus, as a military officer, works to some extent, I would love to see his performance with a more suitable Cassius, perhaps Alex Web, who as Casca, does have that “lean and hungry look.” David Caron’s portrayal of the brilliant warrior and politically savvy Mark Antony is a strong performance that carries the production beyond the ordinary. Lisa Carter as the passionate Portia is heartbreaking.
This is a production with wonderful individual performances that somehow don’t work together to form a cohesive whole. One walked away from this great tragedy being intellectually rather than emotionally moved. There was no weeping over the loss of “the noblest Roman of them all.”
Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar