Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

Modern Caesar Rocks Lakewood

Cleveland Press July 30, 1970

Helmeted cops move the crowd along and the sound of rock music seeps across the stage. Julius Caesar wears a business suit and Mark Antony, fresh from running a race, looks like the jogger next door in his sweatsuit.

When the soothsayer, wearing clerical garb, warns about the Ides of March it is as much to a man holding a microphone in his face as it is to Caesar.

The Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival opened its production of Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar" last night. It was one that hit the audience hard with its unusual aspects.

More than most productions, this one is a director's show rather than an actor's. Director Lawrence Carra has gone out on a limb for this one. Modern dress versions are generally quite neutral in their presentation. That is, they are modern in a very general sense while Carra's "Caesar" is contemporary in a very specific sense.

MUCH OF THIS IS EXCITING, extremely exciting to some judging by the reaction of the opening night audience. Some of the effects were extraneous, proving again that be they uttered by actors in business suits or togas most of Shakespeare's lines transcend time.

Carra's staging presents "Julius Caesar" in a time and place we all can recognize, here and today. From police and crowds jostling in the early moments to the scene in which the poet Cinna is attacked by club-carrying hard hats there are too many topical allusions to ignore.

Is it an accident that in the battle scenes the forces of Cassius and Brutus wear modern jungle camouflage army dress (Vietnam? Cuba?) and the forces of Antony and Octavius wear solid olive drab uniforms topped by green berets?

When Antony and Octavius make their plans and check off the names of the conspirators it is in a smoke filled room, a whisky bottle on the table.

FROM THE STAGING TRICKS one might think that Carra was attempting to isolate the politics of the play. Perhaps he was, but he has not cutback characterizations, has not edited the play in a way to make ideas more important than people.

Purists who might therefore be upset by the staging will still find a full measure of familiar lines. Personally, I have a feeling that the entire production would have been more exciting than it already is if Carra had taken a few more liberties with the text as well.

With some judicious paring lines that set the play clearly in ancient times could have been eliminated.

THIS IS A DIRECTOR'S SHOW rather than an actor's In another sense as well. Often the staging makes it exciting even when the acting isn't.

John Milligan's Brutus, a pivotal role, is too often just a bland fellow. Is he a perplexed liberal swept up by revolutionary forces or just a Casper Milquetoast who couldn't say no when a bunch of the guys decided to get together for an assassination.

Keith Mackey as Caesar is more an elderly businessman than a dictator making one wonder why anyone would want to kill him. Robert G. Denison as Antony has moments of greatness in the first act and handles his big speeches well but runs out of steam in the second act -- but so does Antony.

ROBERT ALLMAN, THE UTILITY INFIELDER for the festival, plays Cassius the way he has done every other part this year -- extremely well. This is an actor to call on in a pinch.

Ann Draper as Portia and Norma Joseph as Calpurnia are both touching in their brief roles.

As Casca, Kermit Brown probably got the biggest reaction from the audience with his country-southern accent. Shades of George Wallace and I suspect you can credit the director with the touch though the actor carried it off well.

Anyway, it's a swinging version of this venerable play and one for which it is easy to predict box office success. It certainly moves.