Like many of you, I looked forward to the work that Molotov Theatre Group – Washington’s Grand Guignol theater – would be doing on Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar because of the exquisite sensitivity Molotov has exhibited in the past for subtle emotions and the complex social and political undercurrents which mark the work of the great playwrights.
Ha ha! Only joking! Like many of you, I was looking forward to Molotov’s An Adaptation of Julius Caesar because in the scene where all the assassins stab Caesar, I expected the blood to spurt out fifteen feet and soak the people in the first row. (I sat in the second row). I figured they’d set the old general’s blood pressure up to about 360/240 and let ‘er rip.
So I must confess I was a little disappointed by the first forty minutes or so of Shawn Northrip’s An Adaptation of Julius Caesar, which by and large follows the Bard’s story line. True, the Soothsayer (Angela Kay Pirko, valiantly fighting laryngitis) has a little more to do than Shakespeare originally conceived of, in that she enumerates an enormous list of bad omens plus sets her hand on fire, and when Calpurnia (Jennifer Speerstra) reads entrails after her bad dream, she really read entrails, courtesy, I’m guessing, of Frank Purdue, but mostly it is Shakespeare’s stuff. Cassius (Genevieve James) complains to Marcus Brutus (Brandon Mitchell) about the lauds that are going to Caesar (James Radack). He suggests that Brutus throw his lot in with a band of assassins he has put together. Although Portia (Jessica Thorne), the wife of Brutus, has misgivings, Brutus decides to join the conspiracy. Thereafter (spoiler alert if you never went to grade school) they kill Caesar, and Marc Antony (Brian Wahlquist) delivers an oration at the side of Caeser’s encoffined body.
All of this is, candidly, notso hotso. The staging is a little cheesy (Calpurnia and Portia sleep fully dressed and wearing their sandals, which may say more about the hygienic nature of the Fringe Shop’s floor than it does about the characters); the actors tend to rush through their lines; Director Kevin Finkelstein’s decision to double-cast the show’s principals as members of the conspiracy is a little confusing at first, in that it appears that Caesar and Calpurnia are participating in the plot of murder Caesar; there is an annoying buzz from the sound system (which may be preventing us from hearing what I’m sure is a cool musical suite by Synetic’s Konstantine Lortkipanidze). Worst of all, when Caesar dies, he only bleeds a little bit. It doesn’t matter much, though.
Because in the middle of Antony’s funeral oration, a miracle happens.
I dasn’t tell you what it is. But it is outrageous.
It is outrageous and it turns all of history upside down. Anachronisms abound. For a brief period, Cassius becomes the Pope. Portia invokes Ophelia, who is twelve hundred years later. All that we know disappears before our eyes, and all that we never believed possible becomes true.
And as I watched this alternate universe play out before me, I was seized by a sudden thought – maybe this is true, and all of history is a lie. Shakespeare, after all, was happy to alter history in the service of his Tudor masters – the real Richard III, for example, was almost certainly not a hunchback, as he was a celebrated horseman and close-arms fighter. And yesterday I learned that the great Mike Daisey’s heroic monologue The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs is not a factual account but a – how did he put it? – a “theatrical piece”.
Maybe the accounts I have read in the history books are just theatrical pieces, too. Maybe Northrip has it right in his adaptation.
You should see it and judge for yourself, especially since you can buy a ticket for a buck ninety-eight. (Editor’s note: tickets are actually $20 online, or $18 if you have a Fringe button.) (Reviewer’s note: “a buck ninety-eight” is merely a theatrical piece about the price of the ticket.) You will hoot with laughter, if you understand “hoot” and “laughter” to be mere theatrical pieces about the noises you will actually make. And there’s plenty of gushing blood. Trust me on this.
An Adaptation of Julius Caesar runs thru April 7, 2012 at The Shop at Fort Fringe, 607 New York Avenue NW, Washington, DC.
An Adaptation of Julius Caesar
Adapted by Shawn Northrip from the play Julius Caesar, by William Shakespeare
Directed by Kevin Finkelstein
Produced by Molotov Theatre Group
Reviewed by Tim Treanor
Running time: 2 hours, including 1 intermission
Julia Laxson . DCMetroTheaterArts