Timpane, John, Shakespeare Bulletin
Presented by The Philadelphia Shakespeare Festival at the Philadelphia FestivalTheatre, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. October 3-November 16, 2003. Directed by David Howey. Art Direction by Carmen Khan. Set by Donald Eastman. Costumes by Hiroshi Iwasaki. Lighting by Pete Jakubowski. Sound and Music by Fabian Obispo. Stage Management by Veronica Griego. Assistant Stage Management by Sarah Braude. With Joe Muzikar (Julius Caesar), Neil McGarry (Brutus), Jared Michael Delaney (Mark Antony), Joe Guzman (Cassius), John Zak (Casca), Patricia Marie Kelley (Calphurnia), McKenna Kerrigan (Portia), Rob Hargraves (Trebonius, Soldier), Brian McCann (Decius Brutus), John Lopes (Metellus Cimber, Flavius, Titinius), Nicholas Clements (Cinna), Steve Gleich (Cicero, Lucilius), Ted Schmitz (Soothsayer, Lepidus), and others.
This was a Julius Caesar that, though played close to text and tradition, found fresh things to say, forcing on us some startling insights about politics, conspiracy, the social impetus of comparison, and the cohering force of friendship.
To conspire is to be paranoid. That might have been the motto for the first half of the production. We see it first in the Brutus-Cassius encounter in 1.2. Each circles the other, cool, politic, testing. Then a citizen passes by, and the two stiffen and pretend nothing is happening. Again and again, the same tense huddling as citizens pass by. Each conspirator has condemned himself to fear and suspicion; an ominous dread of discovery or betrayal colors each move. When in 2.1 Brutus bids the conspiracy "look fresh and merrily," they try, but they can't, really.
In this Rome, each man compares himself constantly to each other man. Everyone is taking stock and keeping score. Cassius, rashly reactive, takes everything personally. Brutus, too, measures everyone. He knows how the petulant Cassius sees him: as a man with superior, mature, sober consistency; Cassius, for all his pride, looks up to him almost as to a father. So Brutus handles him gently, even when arguing and calling him to discipline. By the same token, Brutus senses he lacks Antony's love of games and parties, his oratorical gift, his political skill. Antony is the party boy for the first two acts--he wears something that looks like a Roman warm-up suit--but he is also a politician who, before addressing the mob, smears his face with Caesar's blood. Yet later, in 4.1, we see Antony struggle against the dawning sense that Octavius, not he himself, is the man of the future. Pete Jakubowski's lighting is always very bright on these two, and only Octavius is comfortable in it.
This spare, muscular production seemed to urge the question: Why kill Caesar? Cassius and Brutus have decided, but out of different motives. Cassius wants to kill Caesar out of wounded vanity. Brutus, the general who reads philosophy in his field tent, does not want to kill Caesar at all but feels compelled to do so for philosophical reasons. Neither appears completely confident; each is both decisive yet at sea. After all, Caesar has broken no written law. …