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Gainesville Sun

Friday, March 29, 2002

Caesar slips away too soon from 'Julius Caesar'


Sun theater critic

The strongest actor in the Acrosstown Repertory Theatre's new production of William Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar" is Shamrock McShane, who plays the title role.

What a pity, then, that the assassination of Caesar takes place halfway through the play, effectively removing McShane from the stage. Although Caesar's spirit lives on, and his ghost makes an appearance in the production's second act, his physical presence and gift of speech are missed.

Sidney Homan, who directed this swift-moving "Caesar" with energy and dramatic precision, has other actors on call who make significant contributions. No one, however, has the emotional fire or the gift of speech that McShane brings to Caesar.

Julius Caesar
Where: Acrosstown Repertory Theatre, through April 20

Shakespeare's 1599 historical tragedy tells of Caesar's assassination just as he is to be crowned king. It is not a cheery piece of work. Unlike other Shakespeare tragedies, it lacks any pause for comic relief. Its gloomy prediction of the ides of March bringing foul play sets in motion the string of events leading to Caesar's downfall, followed by war and a rash of suicides.

The two major conspirators, Cassius and Brutus, are well known in both literature and drama. Cassius plays the heavy. Brutus is the idealist whose sense of duty to the greater good leads him to murder.

The on-again, off-again conflict between the two men provides the grist for the play. Bill Eyerly makes a sympathetic Brutus, although a casual theater-goer might question Caesar loyalist Marc Antony's final words describing Brutus as "the greatest Roman of them all."

Damien Smith as his counterpart, Cassius, gives an adept performance, but never quite succeeds in creating the scheming, self-serving character that lies at the heart of the role.

In a departure from tradition, Homan cast a woman, Catherine Tosenberger, in the role of Marc Antony. Although the gender change is a bit disconcerting at the beginning of the play, it seems quite natural as time progresses. Tosenberger moves well on stage, but when she speaks her lines, her voice rises and falls, sometimes losing whole portions of Shakespeare's beautifully crafted lines.

Several actors take multiple roles in this production. Notable among them is Anarosa Garcia, whose principal role is Calpurnia, Caesar's wife, and Malcolm Sanford who plays Casca, a conspirator.

Josh Morris designed the simple set with its stunning red draperies. Eric Ketchum is in charge of the lighting. Phil Yaeger choreographed the realistic fight scenes.

"Julius Caesar" moves swiftly to its unhappy close. Its high moment comes with Caesar's well-remembered dying words, "Et tu, Brute."

After Shamrock McShane delivers these classic three little words, Marc Antony follows with his classic three big words: "Friends, Romans, countrymen ..." Somehow, they sound anticlimactic.