Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
Therein lies the problem with this play. Caesar gets killed before the halfway mark, and Antony's funeral oration, which follows soon afterwards, is such a high point that the rest of the play is pretty much an anticlimax. Julius Caesar then becomes a war play (Brutus and Cassius versus Antony and Octavius, later Caesar Augustus, so we already know who wins) and is not all that interesting until things pick up again with a couple of suicides in the last few pages. At the performance I saw, even the actors seemed to lose focus for a while in the second half.
Peter Shea Kierst, who directed this Julius Caesar, does his best to rescue the second half (the first half is almost perfect as is). He is an astute reader of Shakespearean text, culling the essential from the superfluous, and has done an excellent job of abridgement, cutting this play down to about two hours, including intermission, which is just long enough. He has eliminated a great many characters and combined several of them into a manageable number of players (for example, Casca and Cinna are now just Casca.)
He has saved money on togas by moving the action to 2059 America, just before an election year. Everyone wears clothes contemporary to our time, and they're using tablets and smart phones, which lend themselves to some clever line interpretations. Brutus says "with a spot I damn him" (meaning, to death) and taps his iPad.
Kierst's most inspired idea, though, was to cast a woman as Cassius. Considering how many times words of love come up when Cassius and Brutus are conversing, it makes perfect sense. Cassius: "Brutus, I do observe you now of late: I have not from your eyes that gentleness and show of love as I was wont to have" or "Do not presume too much upon my love" or "I, that denied thee gold, will give my heart." It's unlikely that Shakespeare meant anything romantic or erotic by lines like these, but by giving the part to a woman, Kierst has sparked the play with sexual tension. A brilliant directorial move.
The cast is uniformly fine, and most of them deserve extra credit for also having to learn The Taming of the Shrew, which is being done in repertory with Caesar. Micah Linford as Brutus demonstrates effectively, especially with his eyes, why this play is really the tragedy of Brutus, not of Julius Caesar. Sheridan Johnson is a knockout as the manipulative and seductive Cassius. Her stilettos and mini-skirted power suit (costumes by Carolyn Hogan and Jenny Ramsey) are distracting at first because the heels are so high and the skirt so short, but Sheridan pulls it off (not literally). It's the kind of outfit that this power-seeking Cassius (of the "lean and hungry look") would wear. (I'd suggest nylons, black or sheer, instead of bare legs, though.)
George Williams is a proud and defiant Caesar, who should know better than to ignore the "ides of March" soothsayer, played intensely by Bridget S. Dunne. I was very impressed by Holly Deuel Gilster in the small role of Calpurnia, Caesar's wife. Jeremy Gwin has the right voice to deliver Antony's speech, but I didn't think he was quite demagogical enough. The always-irrepressible Ed Chavez brings a welcome note of comedy as Casca.
This being an outdoor production, the set is minimal. However, the political posters, with their Nazi-ish lettering, are inspired, and I think the credit goes to Amber Myers. Of course, most of the credit goes to Peter Kierst, for another fine Shakespeare production. I wish he were willing to direct one every year.
William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar is being presented as part of Shakespeare on the Plaza. The Civic Plaza is in downtown Albuquerque at 400 Marquette NW. Dates are June 19, 21, 25, 26, and July 4 and 5, 2015. All performances are at 7:30. It is an outdoor stage, partially covered. Tickets are $15 general, $10 students, and $5 on Thursdays. Tickets can be purchased at www.holdmyticket.com or at the door. More info at vortexabq.org.