Spare and incisive staging dominates Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey’s rattling good production of “Julius Caesar,” mounted by director Brian B. Crowe with an admirably clear and accessible flourish. Shakespeare’s bloody account of Roman historical intrigue swells with an unnerving sweep, as the production offers a keenly well-balanced cast and a far more visually palatable treatment than that of the recent Broadway rendering.
Robert Cuccioli’s honorable Brutus is played as a man of considerable principle and lofty expectations. The numbing chill of his studied intellectual approach makes for a compelling study. He never raises his voice until a final disagreement with fellow conspirator Cassius (Richard Topol), only then providing a glimpse of the regret and guilt he clearly harbors.
Marc Antony is acted by Gregory Derelian with the youthful gusto of a student participating in a high school debating contest. That’s not to say it falls short of the required fury. His funeral oration is fueled with spiraling strength.
William Metzo just may be the only bearded Julius Caesar in memory, but no matter: His dictator is one of authority and regal stature.
Topol’s Cassius is a bit too manic, but his explosive edge provides a good contrast to Cuccioli’s ambitiously mannered Brutus. While the spite and envy is apparent, Topol appears to miss the zeal and cunning of a high-minded politician. Eventually, he emerges as a self-confident soldier.
More notable is the boldly blunt perf by Leon Addison Brown as the envious Casca, the first to stab Caesar.
Crowe has not overlooked the vividly drawn smaller roles, such as Patrick Toon’s crippled Soothsayer and the riotous masked citizens of Rome who gather in the aisles with restless fury. The wives of Caesar and Brutus were given short shrift in the Bard’s political drama, but Jessica Ires Morris as the dictator’s concerned spouse, Calpurnia, effectively conveys the fears of her ominous dreams. Roxanna Hope offers a touching scene as Portia, the traitor’s suicidal wife.
The unified costumes of the Senate are for the most part white robes and scarlet scarves over casual modern blouses and slacks. Veteran fight director Rick Sordelet has choreographed the thrusting daggers and swords for Caesar’s bloody assassination, and the assisted suicides of Cassius and Brutus draw considerable aud gasps. The death of the latter is particularly graphic and chilling.
Henry Feiner’s imposing set is marked by a row of towering granite slabs draped with banners that suggest Roman grandeur and strength. Karin Graybash’s sound design turns a crashing thunderstorm into a rumbling omen of dark deeds.