Andrew Hamm: the Bipolar Express

Ruminations on theatre, music, and just about anything else that crosses my bipolar brain.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

First Review of "Julius Caesar" Is In!

Apparently we're "small but mighty."

Susan Habenstock says:

Small but mighty - that's the cast of Richmond Shakespeare's production of "Julius Caesar," which opens the company's second winter season at Second Presbyterian Church downtown.

In its accustomed style, Richmond Shakespeare is playing the great tragedy with just five actors, and they are five excellent ones.

Returning after his fine Othello last winter is Thomas Nowlin as Caesar (and in eight other roles as well). Like his castmates under Master of Verse Grant Mudge, Nowlin speaks beautifully, and his quiet power in the title role is striking.

The experienced Shakespearean Rick Blunt plays five roles, most important that of Brutus, to which he brings great feeling. We can truly see his nobility, his inner conflicts and his morality.

The wonderful Terry Menefee Gau plays Calpurnia and Portia and nine other roles, the most stunning of which is Casca. Though Casca is a man in history as well as in the drama, Gau's Casca is decidedly a woman, and in fact a wild temptress.

Master of Play (director) James Alexander Bond stages her scene with Cassius as an outright seduction, and it works amazingly well.

As Cassius, Andrew Hamm turns in another strong, sharp performance. In his six other roles he is clownish or mild, as the situation calls for. But as Cassius he makes physical the "lean and hungry look," thrusting his head forward and seemingly sharpening all his features, his hands all angles. Vocally he is a master, pelting us with rapid-fire dialogue and perfect diction.

The real revelation here, though, is Jeff Schmidt, in his first role (well, his first eight roles) with the company.

His Antony starts out quietly, but by the time he delivers Caesar's funeral oration he has mastered the audience, using his voice as a weapon against Brutus, raising and lowering its volume and power with precision.

This performance makes the events that follow seem all the more inevitable, as Antony overpowers and defeats the forces of Brutus and Cassius.

Bond physically stages the action laterally in a lovely long, rectangular Tudor room. This enhances movement and action and creates opportunities for riveting eye contact between actors and audience. But the speech echoes a bit, making some passages difficult to hear.

Rebecca Cairns' costumes are atmospheric, not of the period, and most effective. The men are dressed mainly in a contemporary paramilitary style, and Gau has multiple quick-change elements that vary her attire.

Bond employs the costumes creatively; when he has them stand in for slain Romans, the stagecraft is magical.


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