The action-packed “Julius Caesar” has long been one of Shakespeare’s more popular tragedies. Driven by its fact-based spectacle, seductive intrigue and subtly shifting character relationships, the play invites modern political comparisons. The last three productions of “Julius Caesar” I’ve seen were set in contemporary times with little regard to the gender of the character matching that of the actor.
The new, jumbled production at Sacramento Theatre Company doubles down on the play’s modernity but comes across as a cut-and-paste collage of various ideas that don’t always support one another. Conceived and co-directed by Brian Harrower and Kirk Blackinton, the production plays like a mix tape called “Julius Caesar’s Greatest Hits.” The well-known lines are there even though the text has been severely cut and truncated, particularly from the battle scenes in the second half. The large cast, as in most STC shows, features a handful of professional actors, several fine community theater performers, and students from the company’s junior ensemble.
Rome is depicted like the dull and faceless quad at a fading community college in a mainly white mid-America suburb. The 20- and 30-something students express their personae through the random individuality of their costumes: a Rat Pack-inspired tuxedo, a steampunk princess, a power-suited young businessman, a track-suited wannabe rapper. That they are modern equivalents of ancient politicians doesn’t come to mind. They might be the Village People of the new millennium, but without the intentionally symbolized diversity of the original Village People.
Still there is power in the play, and several actors neatly harness that with strong performances. Though called “Julius Caesar,” the play really belongs to the emotionally divided Brutus, and Jeb Buriss – so compelling in STC’s “Romeo and Juliet” – doesn’t disappoint. The charismatic Buriss fully embodies the hesitating ambivalence followed by fierce commitment, which makes the honestly motivated Brutus so compelling. In one of the production’s most satisfying scenes, Brutus reacts to prescient observations of his astute wife, Portia (the excellent Kristine David). There is tactile emotional engagement between the actors, and one wishes the devoted Portia would resist Brutus more, pushing him to divulge his inner conflict if only to prolong the scene.
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Melisa Pereyra’s intensely driven Cassius carries a fanatic’s resolute opposition to Caesar. She’s at her most effective as she and Brutus feel the failure of the motives of their assassination plot. Ryan Snyder delivers an effectively poised, slow-boiling Marc Anthony who slyly undermines the assassins while inciting the Roman crowd to revenge Caesar’s murder. Matt K. Miller is a smartly oblivious and arrogant Caesar, and the sleek Melinda Parrett seems wasted as a clever and droll Casca.
The play’s choppy disjointed second half strips away most of the narrative’s context, resulting in battle scenes and a final resolution that feel awkwardly contrived.
While the production has a solid center with Burris as Brutus, much of the rest floats curiously away.
Call The Bee’s Marcus Crowder, (916) 321-1120. Follow him on Twitter @marcuscrowder.
What: Shakespeare’s historical tragedy with Jeb Burris, Melisa Pereya, Matt K. Miller, and Melinda Parrett. Directed by Brian Harrower and Kirk Blackinton
Where: Main Stage, Sacramento Theatre Company, 1419 H St., Sacramento
When: Continuing at 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through March 22.
Information: (916) 443-6722, www.sactheatre.org
Running time: Two hours, including one intermission