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Readers Go Ballistic Over “Julius Caesar” Review

Jeremy Fiebig (left) as Cassius and Brian Fisher as Brutus plot Julius Caesar's assassination

Jeremy Fiebig (left) as Cassius and Brian Fisher as Brutus plot Julius Caesar’s assassination

My deepest apologies to Jeremy Fiebig, a fine actor and an even finer person, according to all reports. He plays the pivotal role of Cassius, the straw that stirs the drink in the assassination conspiracy in The Justice Theater Project’s current production of Julius Caesar — and he plays the part with distinction. But in a misguided attempt to make a joke at my own expense, in my review I mentioned his weight and speculated that either of us might provoke unexpected laughter when Caesar says in Act I, Scene 2:

Let me have men about me that are fat;
Sleek-headed men and such as sleep o’ nights:
Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look;
He thinks too much: such men are dangerous.
[Emphasis added.]

First, you should know that I am fat — not husky or pudgy or plump or gravitationally challenged. F-A-T fat! (Mr. Fiebig is a much smaller man.) If I donned a 3XL version of Cassius’ costume to frolic around the stage at Clare Hall, I would singlehandedly turn the misnamed Tragedy of Julius Caesar — it might more properly be called The Tragedy of Marcus Brutus — into a comedy. My comment that Mr. Fiebig doesn’t fit the skinny profile of Cassius is one of several examples of miscasting that I cited in my review. I also argued that the JTP abridgment of the play renders certain scenes unintelligible to the causal viewer and that the prolonged Quentin Tarantino-style stabbing of Caesar, with blood bags a-spurting, was another turnoff to me.

John Honeycutt as Julius Caesar gets the Tarantino treatment. Note the blood spatters on the floor behind his right hand

John Honeycutt as Julius Caesar gets the Tarantino treatment. Note the blood spatters on the floor behind his right hand

I find it interesting that so far, no Triangle Review subscribers have submitted any Letters to the Editor about my Julius Caesar review. But the review’s online readers have posted 21 responses to date. To read them all, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2013/02/abridge-too-far-the-justice-theater-project-murders-shakespeares-julius-caesar/#comments.

Portia (Michelle Johnson) comforts her husband Brutus (Brian Fisher)

Portia (Michelle Johnson) comforts her husband Brutus (Brian Fisher)

A typical response comes from actress Michelle Johnson, who graciously agreed to allow me to reprint it here:

I’ve spent the last month playing Portia in Julius Caesar and am genuinely perplexed by the unfavorable press that this well-spoken, thoughtfully-cast production is receiving. I hold my BFA in Acting and was consistently impressed by the emotional range shown by my fellow “JC” actors. A strong writer and unbiased reviewer would have looked “outside the box” of mere physicality when critiquing this production, knowing that good theater has little to do with actors being overweight, underweight, attractive or unattractive. What matters is the quintessential story and an actor’s ability to convey it effectively. In that respect, David Henderson’s cast succeeds admirably. My fellow actors (many of whom have their BFAs and MFAs in Theater) displayed a range of depth and emotion throughout this process which should have earned them, at the very least, a review without superficial — and frankly disrespectful — aspersions to their appearances. Perhaps, it merely takes the combination of a trained eye and an open mind to see that such outward judgments are irrelevant. I strongly urge anyone reading negative reviews about this production to go into Julius Caesar as I did: unbiased and receptive, ready to enjoy a classic piece of literature performed by diligent, wholly-capable professionals. I guarantee, it will be a fascinating journey for those willing to see what good theatre really “looks” like.

I have personally apologized to Jeremy Fiebig for putting him in the center of this controversy, but my verdict on this production remains the same. Although several of the online commenters mention multiple reviews other than mine, I can only find two of them: Feb. 19th Cary, NC Boom! Magazine review by Martha Keravuori and Chuck Galle: http://www.boomnc.com/boom-bits-reviews-books-movies-music-misc/julius-caesar-presented-by-justice-theater-project/; and 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. (Note: It has always been the policy of Triangle Review to publish links to all other online articles on local theater productions, and to publish Letters to the Editor in the next available issue. If you disagree with our critical assessments, we will always be happy to print your contrary opinions, minus curse words of course.)

EDITOR’S NOTE 1: I e-mailed the first day’s commenters and offered to republish their comments VERBATIM if they would agree to sign their real names and indicate what, if any, connection they have to the JTP production. Only two commenter/cast members — Michelle Williams and Mike Raab — said, “Yes,” to that offer. (Raab’s comment was, “The use of theatrical blood is documented 400 years prior to the actual stabbing of Caius Julius Caesar.”) I received an angry response from a third commenter, but that’s it. I plan to post a link to this issue online in the review’s Comments section; and if any of the commenters change their minds, you will read their remarks here.— R.W.M.

EDITOR’S NOTE 2:

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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To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.

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