KPBS AIRDATE: July 11, 2003
Hail, Caesar! The ancient Roman Consul is making a comeback — onscreen and onstage. First, there was the TNT special, and now Shakespeare’s tragic history is back at the Globe. The made-for-TV movie was set in ancient times, but with its smirky, bellicose Caesar, attacking countries unprovoked, it was exceedingly relevant to present leaders, current times. At the Globe, acclaimed guest director Daniel Sullivan has chosen to set his production “towards the end of the 21st century.” This is a Rome rife with pre- and post-apocalyptic political intrigue — conspiracy, back-biting, back-stabbing, devastation, confrontation. It is a city trapped in the timeless conflict between democracy and demagoguery, something we can all relate to, and frighteningly, at the end, after the murder, it’s clear that the new regime will be even worse than the last. The society reeks of distrust, ultra-high security and liberty eroded by self-interest. It’s some time after the fall of the American Empire, natural resources are depleted, economic devastation is everywhere; corruption and mass anxiety rule. A great city in ruins, grippingly conveyed by Ralph Funicello’s modern-ancient set of burned-out buildings and fallen pillars.
In the opening moments, a huge, Stalinesque banner of Caesar’s stern face is vandalized by an angry, leather-clad thug, who scrawls a blood-red “Tyrant” across the image. The play, of course, is less about Caesar than Brutus and Cassius, the co-conspirators — how they bring down their leader and how they are brought down. There is no hero here, no villain. Each character is a multifaceted human, with all the fears, foibles and frailties that entails. That is the genius of Shakespeare, and the enduring legacy of the play, as history lesson and lesson in life. Sullivan shows us a brutal and terrible time not too unlike our own.
All the principals lead double lives, with outward bravado, but private struggle with their choices and inner demons. Robert Foxworth’s Brutus is a ruminator, an idealist if not quite a dreamer, and not quite as sympathetic as one might hope. But he’s a fine foil and friend to Joel Polis as a wonderfully impulsive, explosive Cassius. Their scenes together are both forceful and intimate. The wives of Caesar and Brutus are vigorously played by Kandis Chappell and Caitlin O’Connell, and Dakin Matthews brings delightful humor to the role of conspirator Casca. Michael James Reed, last seen at the Globe as an irresistible Pericles, plays Mark Antony as a party-boy dim-wit, until he gets to his funeral oration, when his anger builds and he rises to rabble-rousing excellence.
The fickleness of the public is shockingly familiar; the fragility of a republic is just plain shocking. With its magnificent battle-scenes, gorgeously lit, backed by ear-splitting sound, and its bone-chilling political messages, this production is often brilliant– robust, dynamic, terrifying.
©2003 Patté Productions Inc.