|In the Shakespearean play, JULIUS
CAESAR, James Morrison played several roles, several times
at San Diego's Old Globe Theatre.
One weekend in 1986, August 16-17, the Old Globe Theatre presented four plays. The Sunday matinee was JULIUS CAESAR. James Morrison played Casca (a conspirator against Julius Caesar) and Titinius (a friend to Brutus and Cassius).
This is a recount of the traditional play --
The action begins in February, 44 B.C. Julius Caesar has just reentered Rome in triumph after a victory in Spain over the sons of his old enemy, Pompey the Great. A spontaneous celebration is interrupted and broken up by Flavius and Marullus, two political enemies of Caesar. It soon becomes apparent from their words that there are powerful and secret forces working against Caesar. The republican nobility of Rome want to retain Senate rule, not entertain the whims of one dictator, however popular he may be with the commoners.
Caesar then appears, attended by a train of friends and supporters. Caesar's authority and eminence are stressed in Casca's command for all present to remain silent while Caesar speaks. And Antony adds, "When Caesar says 'Do this,' it is performed." But during the festivities, Caesar is warned by a Soothsayer to "Beware the Ides of March." Ignoring this warning, Caesar leaves for the games and races marking the celebration of the Feast of Lupercal.
After Caesar's departure, only two men remain behind -- Marcus Brutus, a close personal friend of Caesar, and Cassius, a longtime political foe of Caesar. Both men are of aristocratic origin and see the end of their ancient privilege in Caesar's political reforms and conquests.
Envious of Caesar's power and prestige, Cassius cleverly probes to discover where Brutus' deepest sympathies lie. As a man of the highest personal integrity, Brutus opposes Caesar's principles, despite his friendship for him. Cassius cautiously inquires about Brutus' feelings if a conspiracy were to unseat Caesar. He finds Brutus not altogether against the notion; that is, Brutus shares "some aim" with Cassius, but does not wish "to be any further moved." The two men part, promising to meet again for further discussions.
Soon it is revealed that the conspiracy which Cassius spoke of in veiled terms to Brutus is already a reality. Cassius has gathered together a group of disgruntled and discredited aristocrats -- including Casca, recently converted by the manipulative Cassius who played on the former's superstitious nature -- who are only too willing to assassinate Caesar. In part to gain the support of the respectable element of Roman society, Cassius persuades Brutus to head the conspiracy, and Brutus agrees to do so.
Plans are made at a secret meeting in Brutus' orchard. Redress will be taken on the day known as the "Ides of March," the fifteenth day of the month. Caesar is to be murdered in the Senate chambers by the concealed daggers and swords of the assembled conspirators.
The sun rises; it is the fateful Ides of March. The preceding night has been a strange one -- wild, stormy, and full of unexplained sights and happenings throughout the city of Rome. Caesar's wife, Calpurnia, terrified by horrible nightmares, begs Caesar not to go to the Capital, convinced that her dreams are portents of disaster.
By prearrangement, Brutus and the other conspirators arrive to accompany Caesar, hoping to fend off any possible warnings until they have him totally in their power at the Senate. Unaware that assassins surround him, Caesar goes with them.
Despite the conspirators' best efforts, a warning is pressed into Caesar's hand on the very steps of the Capitol, but he refuse to read it. Wasting no further time, the conspirators move into action. Purposely asking Caesar for a favor they know he will refuse, they move closer, as if begging a favor. And then, reaching for their hidden weapons they kill him -- the first stab by Casca -- before the shocked eyes of the Senators and spectators.
Hearing of Caesar's murder, Mark Antony, Caesar's closest friend, begs permission to speak at Caesar's funeral. Brutus grants this permission, over the objections of Cassius, and then delivers his own speech first, confident that his words will convince the populace of the necessity for Caesar's death.
After Brutus leaves, Antony begins to speak. The crowd has been swayed by Brutus' words, and it is an angry crowd that Antony addresses. Using every oratorical device known, however, Antony turns the audience into a howling mob, screaming for the blood of Caesar's murderers.
Alarmed by the furor caused by Antony's speech, the conspirators and their supporters are forced to flee from Rome, and finally from Italy.
Antony -- together with Caesar's young grandnephew and adopted son, Octavius, and a wealthy banker, Lepidus -- gathers an army to pursue and destroy Caesar's escaped killers.
Months pass, during which the conspirators and their armies are pursued relentlessly into the far reaches of Asia Minor. When finally they decide to stop at the town of Sardis, Cassius and Brutus make plans to meet the forces of Antony, Octavius and Lepidus in one final battle. Instead of holding to their well-prepared defensive positions, Brutus orders an attack on Antony's camp on the plains of Philippi.
The battle rages hotly. At first, the conspirators seem to have the advantage, but in the confusion, Cassius becomes mistakenly convinced that all is lost, and he kills himself. Leaderless, his forces are quickly defeated, and Brutus finds himself fighting a hopeless battle. Unable to face the prospect of humiliation and shame as a captive, he too takes his own life.
As the play ends, Antony delivers a eulogy over Brutus' body, calling him "the noblest Roman of them all." Caesar's murder has been avenged, order has been restored, and, most important, the Roman Empire has been preserved. Synopsized from notes by James E. Vickers, M.A., for Cliffs Notes, Inc.
However, in the Old Globe Theatre's extended run of this play, tradition was replaced by ambition --
From July 18 - October 5, 1986, the Old Globe Theatre Company presented JULIUS CAESAR at the Simon Edison Center's Cassius Carter Center Stage, Balboa Park, San Diego, California. James Morrison again played multiple roles, most notably Casca.
There's no harm in moving Shakespeare's plays to and fro through time and space. In the flexible staging in his own Elizabethan theater such freedom was casually commonplace. Moreover, producers of Shakespeare always have felt justified in adjusting the texts or the casting as dictated by realities, both artistic and otherwise. Over four centuries, it's been proven that Shakespeare won't be imperiled no matter what sort of vandalism is perpetuated upon his plays.
But the bitter lesson that must be learned anew by each generation is that such tinkering had better allow the play its breathing room, its direct link to the mysterious mainstream of Shakespearean theatrical genius. Otherwise, the magic doesn't happen.
Not only have directors Anne McNaughton and Dakin Matthews -- working from Matthews' adaptations for just 13 actors -- reduced considerably the size of the cast, but they have also reduced the sweep and scope of the play to a small and barren stage rent with an earthquake like chasm -- much as the empire was rent by the assassination of Caesar.
In addition, they have modernized the drama -- contemporized it -- and therein lies the fatal flaw of this adventure. For in so doing, McNaughton and Matthews have reduced the major participants from Roman nobles to ski-masked terrorists and guerrilla-clad revolutionaries and thus sacrificed the mammoth impact of the deed done. It is no longer the fate of an empire that is involved, nor the fate of an emperor. Instead, Caesar is little more than a kind of Big Daddy, the chief executive officer, perhaps, of an ambitious corporation. What is lost is more than grandeur.
Fred M. Duer's setting is a vivid but ambiguous metaphor, a black slate terrace split by an unpatched crack sprouting weeds. John B. Forbes' indecisive lighting design relies heavily upon patterned shadows. Only Corey L. Fayman's sound track -- helicopters, explosions, the aural effluvia of Vietnam -- bites decisively into the possibilities and becomes a big help in scene-setting. Unhappily, McNaughton and Matthews never actually commit themselves to any particular setting, much less offer a reason for relocating this so-familiar play.
So, what the Globe offers is 13 actors in banana republic outfits, brandishing shivs and Israeli automatic rifles but speaking in the measured rhetoric and formal oratory so admired by the subjects of Elizabeth I.
What is lost, or mocked, in this adaptation is motive, and in that loss Brutus, Antony, Cassius and even Caesar become little more that venal, power- hungry leaders of street gangs. And while, in such an intimate setting, the power and passion of Shakespeare's poetry rings clear, it also rings false. That such soaring language should be spoken by thugs is hard, near impossible to reconcile.
And it also detracts from some powerful performances. John Vicker is outstanding as Brutus, a truly honorable man torn between means and ends, a man whose infamous act, whose treason -- an act he eventually can no longer rationalize or justify -- reduces him to petulance, pettiness and moodiness. Vicker deftly captures every nuance of one man's descent.
Marc Alaimo is equally excellent as Cassius, he of the lean and hungry look, instigator of the plot against Caesar in the name of patriotism and greater good of Rome. Alaimo brings to the usually villainous Cassius subtle shading that sometimes ennoble Cassius and never fails to humanize him.
Tom Harrison as Antony delivers a blistering funeral oration, as laden with passion as it is drenched with sarcasm, truly a speech to rouse the rabble.
James Morrison who, like most of the actors appears in multiple roles, is most effective as Casca, the most reprehensible of the conspirators.
John Walcutt is less than forceful as Octavius and less than credible as the Soothsayer -- who in this production is interpreted as a sort of spaced-out, giggling hippie.
This production shows signs of an interesting idea gone painfully astray. And nowhere is this more brutally demonstrated than in the use of small black-and- white television monitors overhead that occasionally light up with stock footage of disasters and crowds interspersed with indecipherable battle maps and other half-baked graphics.
This particular updating of JULIUS CAESAR which -- with its emphasis on anarchy -- would have been more fitting and more readily acceptable a decade or so ago, now becomes more than a distraction. Synopsized from reviews by Welton Jones, Theater Critic for San Diego Union and Bill Hagen, Film/Theater Critic for The San Diego Tribune
"James Morrison as Casca has a directness that is appealing." D. Larry Steckling for Drama-Logue
Stecking's review differs slightly from the two above --
The stark economy of the Cassius Carter Stage with its sleek arena concept lends itself ideally to productions of plays whose beauty is appropriately of the classical order. This was proven once before with ELECTRA and now with JULIUS CAESAR, remarkable for its factual density and its spare and explicit use of language.
Celebrating the art of the actor and focusing on the human element behind legends and ancient history, directors Ann McNaughton and Dakin Matthews, in an adaptation by Matthews for 13 actors, have fashioned an emotionally taut, visually appealing piece of theatre.
The ensemble work here is quite good as lines are delivered in a decidedly natural manner. There are, however, a few things that rankle. One of these is the incessant use of the television monitors to make visual comments on the words expressed and to serve as transitions. Also, having Portia and Calpurnia play their respective husband's manservants in later scenes does not work; one can only feel embarrassment for Chappell and Yohn who do their best with the assignments.
Despite these annoying flaws, this dynamic production is the product of a fresh, clear vision shared by costume designer Lewis Brown, scenic designer Fred M. Duer and lighting designer John B. Forbes who create a world where the old interpenetrates the new, a world at once strange and familiar. But, it is also a world that thankfully creates something new, not simply a faithful representation of the old.