Julius Caesar

A stylish, suspenseful first act gives way to a stiff second act


Through Oct. 12

Tickets are $10-15

(510) 234-6046

La Val's Subterranean Theater, 1834 Euclid (between Hearst and Ridge), Berkeley

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Alfredo Fidani has directed a stylish idea of Julius Caesar, set in a mob-infested Rome of 1935, where Brutus and Cassius and Caesar himself all wear pinstripes and broad-brimmed hats, and where strains of Italian opera or a melancholy accordion wander up and down the street. Armand Blasi is also a commanding, full-chested Brutus, with just enough Brando in him to look like a potential Godfather. The rest of this production, unfortunately, can't keep pace; there's a pall over the acting that keeps it rigid and unfocused. In the first half it's not such a problem. Shakespeare's talent for suspense keeps the show moving well enough until Caesar's murder, and both John Polack and Stanley Spenger do solid work as Mark Antony and Cassius, respectively. The sprawling second half of the play is another story. Shakespeare abandons any pretense of order or suspense and gives us an empire in shambles, with senators behaving like warlords and their minions fighting in the streets, and it's up to the company, Subterranean Shakespeare, to infect the audience with a sense of urgency. It doesn't. Spenger's Cassius stiffens in the second half, and even Blasi's sturdy Brutus loses steam. Only Polack -- as the fierce, noble-minded Antony -- keeps up his energy all the way through, but for both Polack and Antony it's a losing game.

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