THEATRE REVIEW: JULIUS CAESAR
By Jain Lemos
If eons have passed since your last Shakespearean experience, consider Duke City Repertory Theatre’s swirling production of Julius Caesar. Within minutes of the action unfolding, you’ll remember why Shakespeare is the decisive test for actors and audience. Settling into the mood and semantic flair, it’s impossible not to marvel at the playwright’s superior awareness in his lively retelling of Roman history. With adaptation and direction from Dr. John Hardy, who contributes an alternative point of view, this version is both ancient and futuristic with a spooky, tribal soundtrack.
The story is not so much about the dictator, but more about those closest to him who wrestle with emotions of loyalty and distrust. Caesar’s co-consul, Marc Antony, is played with sincere passion and understanding by Ezra Colón. Some actors are better suited for Shakespeare than others, and Colón is one without a doubt. He has a natural ability as an orator, making him perfect as Antony, taking center stage with ease time and again to deliver fine discourses with gusto.
When it comes to Brutus, Hardy makes a gender switch and gives Katie Becker Colón a thrilling opportunity to imagine a woman circa 44 BC as a moody, broody soldier. This is not a woman playing a man, this is a woman playing a woman who happens to be a warrior hero, leader and co-conspirator in the assassination plot of Rome’s leader-made-god. Becker Colón brings conviction and self-assurance to the villain, deftly finding ways to show both hate and love for Caesar that suit the emotional arcs of either male or female.
Army commander Cassius, played with fitting motivation by Frank Taylor Green, is resolute in his resolve to kill Caesar. Green uses his body—especially his eyes and hands—to great effect, making Cassius seem creepy and paranoid. Green powers through difficult passages, keeping his tempo and intonation fluid to maintain the clarity of Cassius’ purpose.
To structure the play, a cast of six has to take on practically two-dozen parts resulting in some confusion if the play is unfamiliar. The blocking becomes a dizzying scramble in places but the actors know their moves and navigate the narrow space like athletes. There are only a few moments early on where we get to see Josh Heard as Caesar. His hair seems perfectly curly and Italian; his chest stays puffed as you nearly hear his heart beating when the spirits speak of his doom. Too bad Heard doesn’t get to develop the part further because after Caesar is killed, Heard goes on to play Portia (Brutus’ wife) and other minor figures with little differentiation in his presentations.
Lauren Myers and Amelia Ampuero round out the cast taking on Cinna and the Soothsayer respectively, as well as other supporting roles. Meyers is tender as Calpurnia—Caesar’s third and last wife—and feisty as Metellus Cimber, one of Caesar’s most loyal supporters turned enemy. Ampuero flows into her numerous characters with the most ease and distinction, seeming to pop in exactly when you need a breather.
This historical tragedy has been cleverly condensed to 70 uninterrupted minutes by Hardy and provides a fine way to renew your love of acting challenges. As always, Shakespeare’s unmatched narrative allows us to compare and contrast the events unfolding in our own times. Duke City Rep pours pure heart into their productions and as a community we are enriched by their ambition and dedication.
Julius Caesar runs from Thursday to Sunday through March 20, 2016. For tickets and more information, see their website or the ABQtodo link here.