Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
Also see Rebecca's review of The Tempest
Attempting to improve on William Shakespeare's text is always a dangerous endeavor, but director Alexander Burns succeeds in adding some vital information and a bit of excitement to the Quintessence Theatre's innovative Julius Caesar. Using scenes from John Masefield's The Tragedy of Pompey The Great and Joseph Addison's Cato, Burns has created a prologue spanning five years before Shakespeare's play begins. This introduction is entertaining and raises the stakes on the drama to come. Judicious and clever use of projectionincluding video animation by Eyal Lermanadds to the production's emotional impact. Ellen Moore's stark lighting designs is outstanding.
The performances are, unfortunately, less consistent. Brooding and earnest, Michael Brusasco is an exquisite Marcus Brutus. (The consuming internal conflict evident in Brusasco's performance made me think of Hamlet; how different that story would be if the Prince of Denmark had Brutus's quick hand?) Mary Tuomanen brings an absorbing intensity to the role of conniving Caius Cassius. Brusasco and Tuomanen have a powerful chemistry. Julia Frey is a fierce Portia. Stand out performances also come from ensemble members Anita Holland and Michael Gamache.
Paul Hebron is a lackluster Julius Caesar. Brett Ashley Robinson starts out strong in act one, but falters during delivery of Mark Antony's famous funeral oration. The monologue falls flat for lack of emotional range and rhetorical flare. Robinson is also forced to deliver many of her lines from an awkward perch behind the audience for the remainder of act two. As a result, the initially brisk pace slows considerably after intermission.
An especially terrific scene between Brusasco and Tuomanen, plus a strong ending, make up for many of the second act's sins. It may not be perfect, but Burn's production is potent, original, and well worth seeing.
Julius Caesar, through April 28th, 2018, in repertory with The Wild Duck at the Quintessence Theatre Group's Sedgwick Theater in Mt. Airy, Philadelphia PA. For tickets please call 215-987-4450 or visit visit www.QuintessenceTheatre.org.