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Review: Patrick Page Leads a Sumptuous Ensemble in Shakespeare@'s Radio Drama JULIUS CAESAR

Jordan Barbour and Keith Hamilton Cobb also star in a play of insurrection that has new relevance in 2021.

Even if Americans weren't recently subjected to the horror of violent deaths and the attempted murder of elected officials inside the U.S. Capitol Building, the issue of representatives desiring the right to carry firearms in congress would be enough to bring new relevance to William Shakespeare's drama of insurrection and its consequences, JULIUS CAESAR.

Review: Patrick Page Leads a Sumptuous Ensemble in Shakespeare@'s Radio Drama JULIUS CAESAR
Patrick Page

But Shakespeare@'s superb radio drama adaptation was plotted far in advance of 2021's turmoil, and even without the reminders of recent events, it makes for thrilling listening.

As with their previous COVID-Era radio productions of RICHARD II and THE TEMPEST, JULIUS CAESAR is offered for free listening, with half-hour installments of Artistic Director Sean Hagerty's adaptation of Shakespeare's text dropping weekly. This review is based on the first two of the production's four episodes.

And as with their previous productions, the radio style allows the company to cast a sumptuous ensemble of American and British actors who might otherwise be treading Broadway and West End boards these days.

Whether he be a king, a god, a lawyer or a goblin, New York audiences are accustomed to hearing Patrick Page's rich brio-filled tones enhancing characters who are public figures well aware of the importance of maintaining a public image. While Shakespeare never makes it clear whether or not his title character is as ambitious for power as those who plot against him will claim, Page's Caesar is one who carries a prim, elevated manner that bristles harshly at any sign of being challenged.

By contrast, the private conversation where Cassius (Keith Hamilton Cobb, who's breathtaking exploration of Othello, AMERICAN MOOR, was a highlight of New York's most recent months of live theatre) tries convincing Brutus (Jordan Barbour, seen in Brooklyn as Mark Antony in Theatre For a New Audience's mounting) to join in the conspiracy against the Roman ruler is soft and natural in tone. Wearing earphones is highly recommended for this piece dominated by secrecy and intimate communication. Sound designers Dan Gerhard and Ellen Fitton enhance the atmosphere with a soundscape of a bustling city.

Review: Patrick Page Leads a Sumptuous Ensemble in Shakespeare@'s Radio Drama JULIUS CAESAR
Jordan Barbour

Though the two women characters have limited stage time in JULIUS CAESAR, their involvement here is amplified by both the pared-down text and the heartfelt performances of Ashlie Atkinson and Thia Stephan. Mimicking the rage of the late-night thunderstorm heard during her scene, Atkinson's Portia demands to know what secret affliction consumes her husband, Brutus. Later, as the storm subsides into nothingness, Stephan's Calphurnia tenderly pleads for her husband Caesar to stay within the safety of their home.

It's a special treat to hear Royal Shakespeare Company veteran David Hargreaves taking on the role of the foreboding soothsayer, perhaps the most famous of small stage roles. And when part three drops on Monday, Jamie Ballard's Mark Antony will no doubt step into the forefront of this engrossing historic tale.

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