Like one of the phantoms in Folger Theatre’s production, Julius Caesar revisits us to impart its message time and time again. And while Shakespeare’s tragedy is a familiar experience for some, the performances in this production set it apart–and above–many that have come before.
Director Robert Richmond places his Caesar against a somber, multi-level and stagnant set, in an era that feels part film noir, part ancient ruins.
A figure crouches low as the audience finds their seats, presumably a statue–but look closely and that statue breathes. This unsettling landscape sets the tone for what’s to come.
When the play begins, the ensemble is born from under grey shrouds, a shadowy host of players coming back, it seems, from the beyond to share the tale of their collective undoing.
Of course every significant character dies, and of course Caesar is the first to go. We know this going in. What grants the play its intrigue is the quandary that faces Brutus — to move ahead with the assassination of his friend, or to idle in frustration at his lack of leadership. Indeed, it runs an apt parallel to so many discussions in Washington: what is the least bad option, which scenario more livable.
The strength of Folger Theatre’s production lies in its universal attention to character. Apart from the townsfolk, who speak in unison and act as a human herd, each of the roles is granted admirable subtlety and depth.
Caesar–slick, sharkish, and obsessed with his own mythology–isn’t the most endearing character, but “the noblest Roman of them all” is not so unlikeable that we hope for his death. Pompous, sure.
If anything, we wish for him to recover from his self-absorption, but of course he’s not granted the time to be redeemed. Caesar falls victim to his ambition and to his ego, and Michael Sharon’s portrayal leverages the doomed ruler’s many faults with a core that feels more misguided than malicious.
Brutus, played by Anthony Cochrane, shows an eerie reserve in spite of the chaos around him. Mark Antony, by contrast, is bold in his grief and in his militaristic leadership in Caesar’s wake, and Maurice Jones does well to unify the seemingly disparate parts of Antony’s persona.
As the ferrety villain Cassius, Louis Butelli is impossible not to watch. As the puppetmaster of the conspiracy, it is often his voice whispering toxins into Brutus’s ear. And yet his relationship with Brutus becomes the most rewarding through its twists and complexities–from the moment he plants the seed of murder in Brutus’s head to their heartfelt forever farewell. The physicality of Cassius feels off, in a way perfectly suited to this character–like a sour note or gnarled limb to reinforce his twisted nature.
Closes December 7, 2014
201 East Capitol Street, SE
2 hours, 14 minutes, 1 intermission
Tickets: starts at $40
Tuesdays thru Sundays
A fascinating exercise in empathy and humanity, as well as the more expected overtones of corruption, power, and ego. If ever a play was meant for Washington, this is it. The moment Folger’s production of Julius Caesar endears us to his team of murderers and conspirators is the moment the show has succeeded in its provocation, its complexities, and its caution to all who view it–beware more than the ides of March; beware the hasty and singular judgments from which rash actions unfold.
Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare . Directed by Robert Richmond . Featuring Anthony Cochrane, Maurice Jones, Michael Sharon, Shirine Babb, Deidra LaWan Starnes, JaBen Early, Maboud Ebrahimzadeh, Joe Brack, Nafeesa Monroe, Robbie Gay, and William Vaughan. Set design: Tony Cisek . Costume design: Mariah Hale . Lighting design: Jim Hunter . Composer and Sound design: Eric Shimelonis . Fight director: Casey Kaleba . Produced by Folger Theatre . Reviewed by Jennifer Clements.
Closes Dec 7
Kate Havard . WashingtonFreeBeacon Killing Caesar is easy enough, but it doesn’t address the actual problem. That the people have lost their taste for liberty—that is the true danger.
Gary Tischler . Georgetowner the best “Caesar” I’ve seen in a long time, maybe ever, short of the Brando-Mason black and white movie version many, many moons ago.
Chris Klimek . City Paper The show belongs to Cochrane, whose mighty shoulders droop beneath the weight of the whole failed plot,
Doug Rule . MetroWeekly Maurice Jones acts as a politician’s politician, dominating the stage in his scenes as Caesar’s closest ally Mark Antony.
Jeffrey Walker . BroadwayWorld visually stunning, a feast for the ears, and boasts a commanding ensemble.
Heather Hill . MDTheatreGuide This hair-raising ghost story trails its eerie tendrils into our world today
Winifred Ann Frolik . WomanAroundTown one to get your heart pounding.
David Siegel . DCMetroTheaterArts Louis Butelli took your writer’s breath away as a wily, feral, wicked, electric, “lean and hungry” Cassius.
Nelson Pressley . Washington Post haunted, funereal and apparently eternal — a “Caesar” bubbling up from the pits of hell.
Sophia Howes . DC MetroTheaterArts This is a Caesar for the 21st Century, with important things to say about how we live in our newly terrifying world.
Shmuel Ben-Gad . The American Culture …well done gothic atmosphere is fitting for a world of conspiracy, misjudgements, and moral ambiguities.