Daniel Sullivan directs this new Broadway incarnation of William Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar" in modern dress -- or should that be "modern stress"?
The tragedy is here set in a Rome filled with machine guns and metal detectors. Ralph Funicello's set depicts a bombed-out city with shattered and grime-covered statuary. Costume designer Jess Goldstein dresses the Roman elite in power suits for the production's first half and in camouflage fatigues for the second. And Mimi Jordan Sherin provides a lighting design that incorporates explosions of urban guerrilla warfare along with the usual ominous flashes of lightning.
All of this, of course, is window-dressing for the main attraction: the Marcus Brutus of Denzel Washington, on Broadway for the first time since 1988's "Checkmates." Can this accomplished film actor rise to the occasion?
Sort of. Washington manages the iambic pentameter handily. In his first big scene -- opposite Stratford Festival veteran Colm Feore as Cassius -- Washington's voice does seem comparatively thin. But it bulks up nicely in the later scenes. The real problem here is that the actor can't quite move beyond meeting the technical requirements of the language. Though Brutus has a stoic's sensibility, he needs to be deeply rattled by the prospect of assassinating Caesar (the craggy, testy William Sadler). Brutus' anxiety is obvious to his wife, Portia (Jessica Hecht), and it should be evident to us, too. But Washington seems almost blasé -- it's as if he's contemplating making a budget cut rather than "the most unkindest cut of all."
It doesn't help the star that some of the supporting players seem more fully engaged. Eamonn Walker is a fiery Mark Antony -- and not just during the famous funeral oration. And Jack Willis cleverly turns the conspirator Casca into a sardonic good ol' boy (providing some welcome moments of humor in the bargain).