Review: ‘Julius Caesar’

Corin Redgrave develops a relentless pace and a powerful sense of impending cataclysm in his staging of "Julius Caesar," playing in repertory with "Antony and Cleopatra" through Feb. 11.

Corin Redgrave develops a relentless pace and a powerful sense of impending cataclysm in his staging of “Julius Caesar,” playing in repertory with “Antony and Cleopatra” through Feb. 11.

This is the first U.S. showcase for the Moving Theater, a company founded by Corin and Vanessa Redgrave just two years ago. Judging from their Alley presentations, the company is one that eschews traditional notions about casting and diction. A fully integrated, multicultural troupe, the Moving Theater actors speak not in one voice, but rather in a passionate polyglot.

As Marc Antony in “Julius Caesar,” David Harewood uses a slyly understated Cockney accent to convey his character’s efforts to come across as an ingenuous “common man,” even during his manipulative orations. As a result, the familiar “Friends, Romans, Countrymen” has a fresh and compelling impact as insidious rabble-rousing.

Aicha Kossoko, a French-trained actress, sounds faintly Caribbean in her cadences as Calphurnia in “Caesar” (as as Octavia in “Antony and Cleopatra”), while other members of the company appear to strive for a kind of mid-Atlantic compromise. In this context, the unmistakably American accents of some Alley actors is not nearly so distracting as it might have been.

Of the two Alley productions, “Julius Caesar” is by far the more consistently impressive. In all fairness, of course, it should be pointed out that Corin Redgrave is working from the more streamlined and tightly focused of the two scripts, while sister Vanessa has chosen the more problematical “Antony and Cleopatra.”

In the title role, Corin Redgrave strikes the right balance of grandeur and obstinacy, revealing signs of the not-so-benevolent despot he might become if not checked. The Alley’s John Feltch is bland as the conscience-stricken Brutus , though he sputters to life in a before-the-battle confrontation with co-conspirator Cassius. In the latter role, Moving Theater vet Howard Saddler demonstrates the stage presence of a rising star and the unforced authority of a born leader. Harewood is a dynamic Marc Antony, while Vanessa Redgrave appears briefly, and to great effect, as Portia, Brutus’ wife.

Overall, this is a solid and accessible rendering of “Julius Caesar.” Like “Antony and Cleopatra,” it’s presented on an imaginative and utilitarian double-tiered set that combines the intimacy of a private library with the openness of a Venetian piazza. (Vanessa Redgrave is credited with the overall design conception, while the Alley’s Kevin Rigdon served as associate designer.) A nice touch: Graffiti in both English (“Vote for bread!”) and Latin (“Nihil timeo sed timiditatem” — loosely translated, “I fear nothing but fear itself”). An anachronistic touch: A character scrawls a swastika next to Caesar’s name. That sort of thing is best left to the current movie version of “Richard III.”

Julius Caesar

Alley Theater, Houston; 824 seats; $42

Production

An Alley Theater and Moving Theater presentation of the play by Shakespeare in five acts (one intermission). Directed by Corin Redgrave.

Creative

Set, costume design conceived by Vanessa Redgrave; associate scenic design, Kevin Rigdon; costume design coordinator, Alice Sullivan; lighting, Rui Rita; sound, Joe Pino; production stage managers, Tree O'Halloran, Christa Chapman. Artistic director (Alley Theater), Gregory Boyd. Opened Jan. 23, 1996. Reviewed Jan. 30. Running time: 2 HOURS, 35 MIN.

Cast

Cast: Corin Redgrave (Julius Caesar), John Feltch (Marcus Brutus), Howard Saddler (Caius Cassius), James Black (Trebonius, etc.), Vanessa Redgrave (Portia), Aicha Nathalie Kossoko (Calphurnia), Ariyon Debo Bukare (Octavius Caesar), Jeffrey Bean (Casca, etc.), David Harewood (Marc Antony), Monica Koskey (Lueius), Bettye Fitzpatrick (Cicero, etc.); Ewart James Walters, Alex Allen Morris. Rutherford Cravens, Anthony Skordi, Noble Shropshire, Shelly Williams, Don Campbell.
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