One usually doesn’t think of politically ambitious Cassius to be the central character in Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” but Stephen Weingartner’s captivating portrayal of this murderous Roman senator certainly dominates this A Noise Within production, under the literate but undernourished staging of helmer Eve Adamson. Played out on a bare raked stage, the production suffers from a severe lack of populace as the Bard’s famous Brutus/Antony first act-ending oratory is delivered at a conversational level to no more than a handful of concerned but not overly demonstrative citizens. This leads to an energy void during the supposedly apocalyptic second act clash of opposing legions.
Despite her casual pacing, Adamson does achieve an accessible thematic throughline to this tale of all mighty Julius Caesar (William Dennis Hunt), whose crushing victory over the armies of Pompeii leads to fear and distrust among Cassius and friends. Weingartner offers a tour de force in the art of insidious persuasion as Cassius wins over a reluctant but malleable Brutus (Mark Bramhall) to the cause of assassination.
Though the eulogy faceoff between Brutus and Marc Antony (Daniel Kaemon) is an exercise in restraint, both senators manage to get their agendas across. Bramhall believably communicates Brutus’ emotional ambivalence as he justifies his actions (“not that I loved Caesar less but I loved Rome more”).
Kaemon exudes as much deviousness as sorrow in Antony’s actions to avenge the death of Caesar. At the eulogy, he allows one of Shakespeare’s most famous speeches to unfold at a deliciously casual pace, gradually escalating his sarcasm to the level of outright incredulousness. However, it is a stretch to believe his barbed utterings could actually incite the riot that follows.
The murder of Caesar supposedly unleashes the “dogs of war,” but the almost comical second act onstage jousting among a half dozen legionnaires looks more like puppies at play. The tragic bloodletting of the “honorable men” by the combined efforts of Antony and Caesar’s adopted son, Octavius (Dominic Compertore), is communicated more in conversation than in action.
Glendale-based A Noise Within is one of the few true professional repertory companies still in operation in the U.S., and the supporting cast gives ample evidence of their facility. Hunt is a properly imperious Caesar, whose lofty station in life flows effortlessly over the heads of everyone about him. It is a telling moment when this regal figure is dragged down by men who are so much less than he.
Lending solid support is Harris Berlinsky’s humor-filled Casca, who manages to be droll even while plotting the death of Caesar. Also effective in roles that usually lend themselves more to angst than character are Abby Craden as Brutus’ wife Portia and Jennifer Seifert as Calpurnia, the wife of Caesar. Not quite up to the task is Compertore, whose nondescript portrayal of the young Octavius fails to embody the character traits that will eventually lead this youthful warrior to be victorious over all.
Enhancing the mood of the production are the impressionistic costumes of Kristina Lenss and the expressionistic electronic score of Norman L. Berman. “Julius Caesar” is being presented in repertory with Moliere’s “The School for Wives” and Eugene O’Neill’s “Mourning Becomes Electra.”