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A 'Julius Caesar' that's hard to hail

Eve Adamson's A Noise Within production renders Shakespeare's drama clangorously and portentously.

By Rob Kendt
Special to The Times

March 9, 2005

"Cry 'Havoc!' and let slip the dogs of war," bellows Marc Antony (Daniel Kaemon) over the freshly ventilated corpse of Caesar (William Dennis Hunt). James Taylor's low lights lend Antony a towering silhouette across Angela Balogh Calin's abstract, rusty-metal set.

This emerges as the central image of director Eve Adamson's severe, martial "Julius Caesar" at A Noise Within, and this speech — a dire prediction of "domestic fury and fierce civil strife" that "shall cumber all the parts of Italy" — contains its main thematic thrust. For all its intrigue and drama, Adamson's clanging, portentous production suggests that this particular tyrannicide is but one blood sacrifice in an unbroken stream of atrocities that both precede and spring from it.

Standing athwart this inexorable tide is Brutus (Mark Bramhall), the show's most touching and tragic figure. The tragedy is in his blindness to the forces unleashed by Caesar's assassination; he participates in the name of lofty principles, then honestly can't fathom why those principles don't profit by it but instead are steamrollered by the unreason of war. With an erect, rail-thin frame that registers both impressive power and fatal equivocation, Bramhall makes Brutus singularly steely and dignified, a patron saint of lost causes.

Noble as his motives are, it's an unsavory bunch that he and Cassius (Stephen Weingartner) gather at the Capitol to make Caesar salad. Here, Hunt's lumbering, pompous Caesar tries to escape up a ladder but, stripped of his toga, instead totters down onto Brutus' waiting blade. Not to worry, Caesar doesn't die naked; instead he's left wearing a black jumpsuit and shiny boots that make him look like a nightclubbing mechanic.

Indeed, boots and jumpsuits in various washed-out tones form costumer Kristina Lenss' default palette, over which she layers togas, leather and other earthy textiles. The effect is a kind of nether-period Roman grunge, matched by Calin's industrial-strength set and Norman L. Berman's sonorous score of electronic booms, whines and clicks.

The on-the-nose ominous design seems silliest in scenes of violence — not only in the red-lighted murder but in a series of roving battle skirmishes, staged by Kenneth R. Merckx Jr., that consist mainly of ski-masked mercenaries slamming pipes and swords against flat shields, the set, even the seating railings.

While the scenery may look unappetizing, some actors can't help chewing it. Weingartner, in particular, hasn't successfully modulated his volatile Cassius, who remains frustratingly bipolar: He's either insinuating, all sotto-voce nod and wink, or he's a sputtering, furious hothead.

Kaemon fares better with Marc Antony, banking this up-and-comer's fiery spirit in tightly controlled politicking. Among the nearly universally stern-looking ensemble, Harris Berlinsky stands out as a properly sour, pandering Casca. While "Julius Caesar" may be Shakespeare's least actress-friendly play (apart from "Timon of Athens"), Abby Craden and Jennifer Seifert make respectable showings in the thankless one-scene roles of Portia and Calpurnia, respectively.

"How many ages hence/Shall this our lofty scene be acted over/In states unborn and accents yet unknown," Brutus muses self-consciously at the crime scene. Surely a play pitting tyranny against democracy needs no extra emphasis to resonate in our own fraught time.

If Adamson's "Caesar" finally fails to cut to the still-beating heart of the matter, it's not for lack of clattering sound and fury.


'Julius Caesar'

Where: A Noise Within, 234 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale

When: 8 p.m. March 23, April 13-14, April 21-23, May 6-7 and May 12-13; 2 p.m. March 20, April 10 and April 23; 7 p.m. March 20

Ends: May 13

Price: $30-$34

Contact: (818) 240-0910, Ext. 1

Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes

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