Julius Caesar

There's noise of a different sort arising from Town Center Theatre. I wouldn't call it singing, as much as the sound of Shakespeare spinning in his grave.

Director Chris Tennison has an intriguing take on the play — one involving contemporary, cutthroat mega-business. We're at Rome Industries, where a giant tilted "R" represents the company's logo. Sound familiar? Caesar is CEO, Antony is VP of Public Relations, Brutus is head of the legal department and Cassius is VP of Marketing.

This update requires some injudicious finagling ("boardroom" is substituted for "senate," and the like) which works up to a point, but leads to more questions than can be suitably answered. "Lean and hungry" Cassius is now a slinky woman executive in a power suit (Amber Bennett). This wacky gender gimmick throws Shakespeare off balance, to say the least, when it doesn't lessen the play's visceral impact altogether. Can't all the guys in the office be guys, like in Mamet? And sure, we understand the metaphor of "killing the competition," but ancient history's major power grab lacks force when set in the stock exchange.

The fine cast carries on intrepidly. With planted earphone and goatee, Ben Warner (Antony) is hopped up on power. He definitely has killer attitude. His resonant baritone dramatically shades the "funeral oration" and is the highlight of the play. As crux of the play, Brutus (Travis Bryant) is caught in a vortex beyond his control. Once he takes action, all hell breaks loose. Bryant rightly plays him as an Everyman, sliding into the abyss thinking he did the right thing. Caesar (Andrew Hager) is a spoiled, petty tyrant, loud and pushy. The assassination scene is graphically staged, but why Brutus shoots Caesar instead of stabbing him, as do all the other conspirators, is a mystery. Kim Bryant's suffering Portia is heartbreaking, and Jacob Millwee's Casca is a case study in servile fawning.

The sound design by Janel Badrina and the original music by Franz Hill are eerily effective in setting mood, but the visual mood is repeatedly upset by the undulating shadows cast across the background. A simple refocusing of lights would eliminate the distraction.

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D.L. Groover has contributed to countless reputable publications including the Houston Press since 2003. His theater criticism has earned him a national award from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia (AAN) as well as three statewide Lone Star Press Awards for the same. He's co-author of the irreverent appreciation, Skeletons from the Opera Closet (St. Martin's Press), now in its fourth printing.
Contact: D. L. Groover