Contemporarizing or deconstructing classical texts can be powerful
theatre. Charles Marowitz's versions of Taming of the Shrew
and Merchant of Venice look at the misogyny and anti-Semitism
in Shakespeare's text to show us how little we've really grown.
When taking the structure of Julius Caesar, one of Shakespeare's
most exciting tragedies, and using it as a contemporary debate
on the cutthroat nature of politicians, it would be helpful to
know whose politics we are looking at.
D.A.G. Burgos's Caesar 2000, produced by Creative Artists Laboratory, opens with the technique of two newscasters from opposing ends of the political spectrum (one a Democrat, the other a Republican) reporting to the audience about Caesar (Walter Plinge)'s rise to the top in hopes of becoming the emperor of the Roman Empire. As rewritten, Brutus is a Republican who is in direct conflict with Caesar's policies. This would leave one to believe that Caesar is a Democrat, but that remains unclear. Without this clarity of who is actually betraying what cause, the play loses its rationale. Also, as rewritten, Burgos has kept the structure from its original source but has stripped Shakespeare's language and complexities away and replaced them with sloppily constructed, banal, on-the-nose dialogue, making the play seem better suited to a made-for-cable espionage thriller than a scathing play about power and politics. So much of the play is rewritten and updated, perhaps Burgos should have just written another play. Barring that, he could at least have given Shakespeare some credit: there was no "freely adapted from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar" here. What remains strongest is the Bard's tough-as-nails structure, which withstands the discourtesies inflicted upon it.
As a director, Burgos allowed his actors to wander aimlessly around
the stage, giving flat line readings of the text. The lead performances
seemed coreless and false, with the one exception of Plinge. Plinge
had drive and power as Caesar as well as some sort of inner life.
Lenore Borja's Antony, Laura Cohen's Portia, Tanya
Klein's Cassius, and Carlie McCarthy's Calpurnia all
needed to dig deeper and raise their intentions to life-and-death
stakes. In the lead role of Brutus, Matt Samson was most
believable discussing his politics, less believable with his betrayal
and murder of Caesar, and downright false with his wife and her
untimely end. Besides Plinge, Beverly Bartlett, Davis
Rushing, and Daniel Sawka as the other accomplices
in Caesar's murder seemed the only ones in the cast with any intention
and resonance on that stage.
(Others in the cast: Morica Cortez, Susan Cronk, Kelli Kolodny, Jace McLean, Claire Peng, Tyler Pierce.)
The uncredited lights were annoyingly distracting during transitions,
the uncredited costumes were less than should be, and there was
no set to speak of.
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Copyright 2000 Andrès J. Wrath