BWW Review: Et Tu, Brute? is Comme Ci Comme Ça with Seattle Shakespeare Company's JULIUS CAESAR

BWW Review: Et Tu, Brute? is Comme Ci Comme Ça with Seattle Shakespeare Company's JULIUS CAESAR
Cast of Seattle Shakespeare Company's Julius Caesar
Photo credit: Alabastro Photography

This rendition of "Julius Caesar" by the Seattle Shakespeare Company will offer a few surprises. It is a streamlined production with a race and gender-diverse cast. With no clear-cut villains and heroes, this epic tale of political savagery has an engaging narrative. But when said savagery feels tepid, hiccups are more conspicuous, leaving audience members recalling the bad, rather than the good. Now performing at the Cornish Playhouse, "Julius Caesar" gets the job done, but it's problematic.

Here's the gist: It's ancient Rome, and Julius Caesar has returned from war victorious. His constituents Caius Cassius gets jealous and paranoid about Caesar's popularity, so he goes to try and convince Marcus Brutus to kill Caesar before he becomes emperor. Spoiler (but not really): Cassius, Casca, Brutus, and their allies stab Caesar to death, and Antony gives a speech that causes them to riot their way right out of the city. Brutus and Cassius gather an army and they fight the forces led by Mark Anthony. Lots of folks die.

Director George Mount's adaptation pays homage to a very traditional production of "Julius Caesar" after intermission (the setting in Ancient Rome, the clothes traditional, the technology and architecture historically appropriate, etc.,) but before intermission, "Julius Caesar" takes place in present-day Washington D.C. The white, columned building where the bulk of the action takes place works both in modern D.C. as well as ancient Rome. Set designer Craig B. Wollam's visual nod to the story's timelessness works well.

However, perched in each top-corner of the stage are a cluster of bright, loud televisions playing a stream of cable news and political punditry. The televisions help establish the setting, but they're very distracting. Many times, the televisions are not muted, so the voices of the newscasters will conflict with the voices of the actors. And the content (as well as the language) of any Shakespearean production cannot afford any distractions. Blink, and massive plot-points get lost.

Before intermission, the cast wears modern attire. After intermission, the cast inexplicably wears ancient Roman attire, storming into battle clad in gladiator sandals, chain mail, and Roman soldiers' helmets (the ones with the horsehair Mohawks). It's a confusing choice to revert back so abruptly.

Brutus and Cassius' complicated, tangled relationship is handles with aplomb by Bradford Farwell as Cassius and Reginald Andre Jackson as Brutus. Farwell Cassius never completely shakes off the layer of anxiety accompanying his every move, as indicated by his continuously clenching fist. His nervous energy is fun to watch. Jackson's thirst for power is gradual, making his blowout with Cassius that much more satisfying. Chantal DeGroat's Casca best melds Shakespearean language with modern tone and connotations, and is a breath of comedic fresh air. Lorenzo Roberts' Mark Antony, though charming, does not bring the political charisma and savvy that the infamous speech calls for, which was disappointing. Sunam Ellis' Portia is surprisingly gusty, and it works. Peter Crook's Caesar is very correct: poised, nonchalant, and well groomed.

This production does not shove modern-day analogies down the audience's throat, but perhaps some shoving could have done this production a service. The war is not particularly bloody. Even Caesar, who gets stabbed over and over to his death does so in a cartoonish, not particularly believable fashion. There's enough decent stage combat to make up for the lack of potency, and for some, a gore-free rendition of "Julius Caesar" may be appealing. That said, it's all, though entertaining, a bit mild for a play about the gruesome realities of politics. On one hand, the cast speaks Shakespeare's verse very well, which alone qualifies it as a successful production. On the other hand, fervor can be felt momentarily, rather than consistently. It feels like a show that needs more time to stew to make it juicier (and bloodier!), and work out the technical kinks. For this imperfect but ultimately entertaining production, I give Seattle Shakespeare Company's "Julius Caesar" a mildly enthusiastic B-.

Seattle Shakespeare Company's "Julius Caesar" performs at the Cornish Playhouse through October 1, 2017. For tickets and information, visit them online at www.seattleshakespeare.org.

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From This Author Amelia Reynolds

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