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Old Master's Words Inspire Young Actors

Brutus' Portrayal Anchors Tale Of Ambition, Honor

(c) Daily Press

July 13, 1993

By Bob Blattner

WILLIAMSBURG — Youth owns the stage in the Virginia Shakespeare Festival's production of "Julius Caesar," but it is a centuries-dead author who steals the show.

In a satisfying, though uneven, production, a largely amateur cast gives the power of William Shakespeare's vision and the brilliance of his language free rein.

No mean feat, breathing life into words penned almost four centuries ago.

The production featured only one Equity - established stage professional - actor. Steven Culp, a 1978 graduate of William and Mary and a veteran of stage, television and big-screen productions, returned to his undergraduate haunts to play the lead, Marcus Brutus.

Shakespeare, no fool, wasn't about to name his show after a minor historical character, Brutus, when he could slap that big box-office name on his play.

Culp, on stage for most of the play, anchored what was otherwise essentially a college production with a solid, sympathetic portrayal of "the noblest Roman of them all."

As co-conspirator Cassius, Frances J. Gercke was appropriately lean and hungry, envious and deadly. Playing Caesar, David Evans was as effective as a trailer load of cactuses in deflating the great man's pomposity and arrogance.

And Lisa Rowland's rich, heart-tugging portrayal of Brutus' wife, Portia, left one wishing Shakespeare had given her more prominence in what essentially is a story about men and their envy and ideals.

The playwright was careful to leaven his tale of ambition and honor and revenge with lighter scenes, however. Robert A. Goddard III stood out in one, rendering in his clear, subtly emphatic acting style a delicious portrait of Casca, the two-faced political hack watching his back while plotting his future.

Goddard's Casca would fit in equally in the Richmond rivalry of Gov. Doug Wilder and Sen. Chuck Robb (D-Va.) or the Rome of Caesar, and in the timelessness of the portrayal lies the allure of Shakespeare.

The production was most powerful in the more leisurely first act.

But as the play picked up pace and passion in the second act, the less experienced actors increasingly lost control of the material, choosing hyperactivity and garbled shouts over quieter intensity and careful diction.

In all, however, the mix made for a pleasant evening. For as fans of minor-league baseball can attest, there are certain charms to be found away from the big leagues.

The Virginia Shakespeare Festival features easy parking, an intimate theater with no bad seats and ticket prices far below other productions.

And while its young actors occasionally lacked polish, the show's sumptuous Elizabethan period costumes and the beautiful set - modeled after a theater of Shakespeare's time - were radiant.

The Virginia Shakespeare Festival will perform "Julius Caesar" at the College of William and Mary's Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall at 8 tonight and at 8 p.m. July 15, 17, 21 and 23, with a 2 p.m. matinee on July 25. "All's Well That Ends Well" will be performed at 8 p.m. July 14, 16, 20, 22 and 24, with a 2 p.m. matinee July 18. Tickets are $10 for one show, $18 for both. Call 221-2674 for telephone reservations.

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