KnifeBy Manning Harris

Since Julius Caesar is one of Shakespeare’s most accessible plays, Georgia Shakespeare has chosen wisely for its fall production:  Hundreds of high school students are bussed in for a taste of the Bard in morning shows (we adults see the evening performances); for many students it’s their first exposure to live professional theatre and Shakespeare, and the experience will color their view of both.  So it’s no small responsibility for the GA Shake actors and staff, whose production runs through Nov. 1.

The plot of Julius Caesar is simple; the themes and the revelations are profound, and the language, of course, is sublime, often triggering memories of when we first heard these lines:  “It was Greek to me”; “There is a tide in the affairs of men”; “Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look”; and of course, “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears.” There are, naturellement, others.

Brutus (Neal A. Ghant) is too noble for his own good; and Cassius (Joe Knezevich) is too clever for his.  In my opinion each actor should be playing the other’s part.  Both are talented; but Mr. Knezevich has more polish and panache than anyone else onstage.  And it’s these qualities (along with his much vaunted nobility) that draw men to Brutus, that make the conspiracy impossible without his participation.  Still, they make it work:  The Act IV argument between Brutus and Cassius is a dramatic highlight and also makes their love for each other believable and moving.

A pleasant surprise of the evening is David Quay’s performance as Antony.  When first glimpsed he looks like a high school track star wearing ill-fitting running shorts, and you think this actor will never pull off a believable Antony.  But just as the conspirators’ fatal error is their underestimating the guile and oratorical gift of young Antony, so did I initially misjudge Mr. Quay’s capabilities.  Even though he could do more with Antony’s power and sarcasm in the funeral oration (a la Brando in the 1954 film version), he more than rises to the occasion.  He’s superb in Antony’s “O pardon me, thou bleeding piece of earth” soliloquy, which is marred only by the too-early entrance of a servant.

Allen O’Reilly (Julius Caesar), Susannah Millonzi (Portia), and Tess Malis Kincaid (Calpurnia) are all admirable.  The very young Mason Cary, who already shows the focus and concentration of a born actor, makes a fine Lucius, Brutus’ servant boy.  However, unless director Richard Garner has unearthed some piece of arcane Shakespearean scholarship, I really don’t understand why he would have Mr. Cary hold the knife that Brutus runs on.  The text says this task is performed by Strato, a grown young man.  Having a young boy do this grisly task throws the focus of the scene in unsettling ways.

The costumes (Sydney Roberts) are a mishmash of Russian Revolution, Chinese Resolution, and World War I.  What is wrong with traditional ancient Roman dress?  Clay Benning’s sound design is  very effective.  The usually fine Kat Conley’s scene design is interesting but rather unexciting.

The mischief is afoot, as Antony says, and Julius Caesar is on view at the Conant Theatre on the campus of Oglethorpe University through Nov. 1.

Website:  www.gashakespeare.org

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.