by Joey GuerraDaily Cougar Staff
It seemed like a great idea. Internationally acclaimed actress Vanessa Redgrave and her brother Corin, making their Alley stage debuts in two of Shakespeare's classic tales: Antony and Cleopatra, which opens next week, and Julius Caesar, which premiered Thursday night. With Corin directing and taking the title role, sister Vanessa assuming a minor supporting part and a bevy of able performers rounding out the company, what could go wrong? Plenty.
In adapting Shakespeare's tragedy for the Alley stage, the company seems to have lost that precise sense of despair which made his plays so moving. The play takes place in 44 B.C., centering on Brutus (John Feltch), Rome's freedom fighter, whose discontent with Caesar is prodded by Cassius (Howard Saddler). With the help of Trebonius (James Black), Casca (Jeffrey Bean), and Cinna (Rutherford Cravens), Caesar is murdered in the Senate House just after he is crowned a monarch. From here, Brutus' and his men's downfall is inevitable at the hands of Marc Antony (David Harewood), one of Caesar's loyal disciples.
Working from this not-so-timely story, both the Alley cast and members of Redgraves' Moving Theatre give lackluster performances, save for a few exceptions. As Portia, loyal wife of Brutus, the female Redgrave infuses her small part with enough passion for every actor. She makes you understand her words and feel the despair she has for her husband.
Also turning in good performances are Cravens as Cinna and Harewood as Marc Antony. Cravens makes the perfect villain, using body language and great line delivery to turn a supporting role into a wickedly fun treat. Harewood is a revelation as the noble Marc Antony and turns in the play's best performance. His loyalty to Caesar is believable, and Harewood, like Redgrave, lets the audience know he understands the words he is saying.
Unfortunately, the remainder of the major players seem to be bumbling around stage, sputtering lines when cued. Corin's Julius is little more than a plot pusher, rarely interesting and often annoying. He hardly registers a second thought; Redgrave has no stage presence whatsoever. It only gets worse when Caesar is killed, with Corin executing a frightfully laughable death scene. There are quite a few death scenes in Julius Caesar, most of which are overblown and underwhelming.
Underwhelming describes most of this production. Feltch is terribly miscast as Brutus, and he has a bad habit of slurring his words at the end of a sentence. He had no passion, and his bland line delivery resulted in almost every line being a throwaway. As Cassius, Saddler is also a problem. His overdramatics meshed awkwardly with the deathly slow pace of the rest of the play.
Oh yes, the play is very slow, clocking in at almost three hours. Redgrave's direction is snail-like. Cues are off and staging is terrible. There is no energy within, only a slow, steady movement.
To the credit of Vanessa Redgrave, the scenic design is commendable. Her vision of Rome is vibrant and detailed, down to a trickling fountain. Perhaps her talents will elevate Antony and Cleopatra, which she directs and stars in next week, into something more entertaining than these stilted Shakespearean scenes.
Alas, Julius Caesar can only be called a disappointment of royal proportions. Moving Theatre and the Alley cast make a valiant effort, but this Caesar deserves to be shunned from the theater world.