William Shakespeare’s plays may be Public Domain, and therefore FREE to produce — and ruthlessly abridge — without paying royalties; but they are deceptively difficult to stage successfully. Not many community theaters in the Triangle or elsewhere have the capability to pull it off or a talent pool deep enough to communicate the power and poetry in the dialogue of the Immortal Bard’s timeless tragedies. Sadly, such is the case with The Justice Theater Project’s current ill-conceived and at times horribly miscast presentation of The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, which was penned in approximately 1599 in England, at a time when the end of the 40-year reign of Queen Elizabeth I was imminent and her failure to appoint a successor raised the very real threat of Civil War.
Shakespeare was not unaware of the havoc that puffed-up military commanders could wreak when they decided to seize power from civilian authorities. The assassins of Roman general and politician Gaius Julius Caesar (100-44 BC) claimed that he had ambition to burn and was about to make himself king and do away with the cherished Roman Republic (509-27 BC), which was run by the Senate.
But in the abridgement employed in the current JTP modern-dress production of Julius Caesar, under the direction of David Henderson, Caesar is played by the genial and grandfatherly and terribly miscast John Honeycutt, a fine actor and a sweet man who portrays the title character like a typical glad-handing politico — think former President Ronald Reagan at his most avuncular — without demonstrating that Caesar has the fire in his belly to depose the Senate and install himself as sole ruler of the Rome and its burgeoning empire. Indeed, it is impossible to the average viewer to see how Honeycutt’s Caesar has got his assassins’ panties in a wad.
Moreover, at the end of Act I, when the Ides of March 44 BC has come, and these self-appointed “patriots” carve up Caesar — in an unnecessarily graphic manner, with blood bags spurting and splashing the stage with crimson — JTP transforms Julius Caesar from a Grade A drama of political intrigue into a Grade Z slasher film. Act II commences with the famous funeral oration of Marc Antony (delivered with passion by Jade Arnold), but soon disintegrates into a series of chaotic and ultimately unintelligible battle scenes — mostly viewed from the behind-the-lines headquarters of Cassius (the miscast Jeremy Fiebig, who may have had that “lean and hungry look” about 40 to 50 lbs. ago, but now more resembles yours truly than Cassius) and Marcus Brutus (an ineffectual Brian Fisher, who never says or does anything in this JTP production to justify Marc Antony’s surprising end-of-play characterization of Brutus as “the noblest Roman of them all”).
Director David Henderson’s misguided decision to transform Caesar’s barren third wife Calpurnia into a smoking-hot babe flashing smoldering come-hither looks at the general’s associates is another misstep, although Katie Anderson sizzles in that role. Funnyman Mike Raab is wasted as Casca, but George Kaiser and Michelle Johnson make nice impressions as Caesar’s ultimate successor Octavius and Brutus’ fearful wife Portia.
The saddest thing about the current Justice Theater Project presentation of Julius Caesar is that newbies to the works of celebrated Elizabethan poet and playwright William Shakespeare (1564-1616) will wonder what all the fuss is about. I hope that in the words of the Broadway musical Kiss Me, Kate, JTP brushes up their Shakespeare before tackling one of the Bard’s plays in a future season.
SECOND OPINION: Feb. 14th Durham, NC Independent Weekly review by Byron Woods (who awarded the show 2 of 5 stars): http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/justice-theater-projects-julius-caesar/Content?oid=3291442.
The Justice Theatre Project presents JULIUS CAESAR at 8 p.m. Feb. 16, 2 p.m. Feb. 17, 8 p.m. Feb. 22 and 23, and 2 p.m. Feb. 24 in Clare Hall at the Catholic Community of St. Francis of Assisi, 11401 Leesville Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina 27613.
TICKETS: $20 ($15 students and seniors), except $12 per person for groups of 10 or more.
BOX OFFICE: 919-264-7089, email@example.com, or http://www.etix.com/.
LIST OF RELATED EVENTS: http://www.thejusticetheaterproject.org/Productions.html.
PRESENTER: : http://thejusticetheaterproject.org/.
Julius Caesar (background): http://internetshakespeare.uvic.ca/Library/plays/JC.html (Internet Shakespeare Editions) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julius_Caesar_%28play%29 (Wikipedia).
The Script: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/2263 (Project Gutenberg).
Study Guides: http://www.thejusticetheaterproject.org/upload/Julius%20Caesar%202013%20Education%20Action%20Guide.pdf (The Justice Theatre Project) and http://www.bard.org/education/studyguides/Julius/caesar.html (Utah Shakespeare Festival).
William Shakespeare: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Shakespeare (Wikipedia).
David Henderson: https://www.facebook.com/theatrescot (Facebook).
Gaius Julius Caesar (100-44 BC): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julius_Caesar (Wikipedia).
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Review, a FREE weekly e-mail arts newsletter. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Review.
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