Reviewed by Lucy Komisar
Presented by The Aquila Theatre Company at the Clark Studio Theater, 70 Lincoln Center Plaza, 7th Fl. (at W. 65 St.), NYC, Nov. 28-Dec.23.
The Aquila Theatre Company's stunning "Julius Caesar" combines a naturalistic and modern sensibility with lyrical, stylized movement.
Caesar (Robert Richmond, who also directs with clarity and nuance) and his retinue first appear in dark suits and vests, with Calpurnia in a power-red suit. The politicians wave disdainfully to the crowd, which hails Caesar in a slow-motion dance. Later, the conspirators hold black umbrellas pulled by a tempest that explodes in torrential violins and drums. Helmeted soldiers grapple in a warriors' ballet.
The bald Caesar has the thuggish look of a dictator. Decked out in a slick military uniform with medals and epaulets, Richmond reveals the soul of a man too self-absorbed, egotistical, and stupid to detect the brewing plot.
Anthony Cochrane, enthralling as Brutus, doesn't display the uncertainty or indecision some actors imagine. He seems deep, quiet, and intelligent; a man of substance, assurance, even nobility, distraught about the country and regretful at resorting to murder.
The riveting Louis Butelli plays Cassius less like a political rival than a shrewd corporate executive plotting a hostile takeover—a manipulator, a demagogue, but not ignoble.
The highlight is the moment in the tent at Philippi when Caesar accuses Cassius of defending a confederate's bribe taking. Cochrane's subtle gestures, every ripple of his face, dismiss the significance of this event among Brutus' overwhelming sorrows while also expressing disgust. As the two circle each other, Butelli's expression betrays Cassius's astonishment and bitterness; his eyes boil, challenging, his mouth hangs open as if to compensate for breathlessness.
Also memorable is Lisa Carta as Portia spilling her guts to Brutus, demanding to know why he's keeping secrets. When Calpurnia (Shirleyann Kaladhian) conveys her fright and suspicions to Caesar, you feel how much deeper is the first couple's relationship.
The set, by Richmond and Artistic Director Peter Meineck, comprises a few simple objects—hanging red banners, black parsons tables on which actors perch, white sheeting that is pulled up to create the tent at Philippi—yet they fully evoke the mood of the surroundings.
This half-American, half-British Aquila company production is a master class in acting.