New York City Theater
The pull between the state expediency and the individual conscience is at the heart of "Julius Caesar." The bloody assassination of the eponymous Roman leader sparks a war between factions that leaves the battlefield strewn with corpses.
But Shakespeare is concerned more with the human beings who put their lives on the line for their cause. On one side is the "lean and hungry" Cassius, who enlists the peace-loving Brutus. On the other side is the fiery Mark Antony.
Daniel Sullivan is a good director but his very loud modern-dress production doesn't say much - and, at times, doesn't make much sense. Contemporary productions of this political play are nothing new and suggesting war-torn Iraq is valid. But here the setting, with its fallen debris and broken walls, looks the same before and after the war, suggesting that what's needed is not a new leader but more efficient street cleaners.
Which leaves us with the actors, especially with Denzel Washington as Brutus, the obvious reason for the revival. He's fine when he gets to the funeral oration and has a moving bit with his page at the end that shows what a sympathetic performer he is. Of course he looks great and has a wonderful presence, but too much is blank. Brutus is detached and stoical, yet his meditative moments should be filled with conflict.
Faring better are Colm Feore as the vitriolic, scheming Cassius, Jack Willis as the caustic Casca and William Sadler as the gangsterish Caesar. Eamonn Walker is an incendiary Antony (although he sometimes mumbles his lines).
Shakespeare is done so rarely on Broadway that you root for success. Although this "Julius Caesar" is more plain brute force than subtlety, its reminders of wars in the Middle East stick. And it doesn't take too much imagination to think of Colin Powell when viewing Washington's Brutus, a noble man betrayed and maligned by his bosses.
-- David A. Rosenberg
April 15, 2005