B.A.M Stages All Black “Julius Caesar”

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As you find your seat at a recent production of the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) “Julius Caesar,” a group of black actors appear on stage, laughing and joking, casually passing the day in what appears to be a West African market place, immediately distinguishing this production of Julius Caesar from the Shakespeare you might remember from your 8th grade reading list.

In an all-black production by Gregory Doran, he uses the political upheaval that has plagued modern day Africa as its backdrop. Doran’s interpretation takes this classic drama’s transcendent themes – the corrupting influence of personal ambition, the fickle nature of public favor, and the unreliable symbols we pursue in making meaning of the world around us, out of the cool, limestone halls and monuments of ancient Rome, making them work and sweat under the hot, unflinching glare of the African sun.

According to NBC News, This high adrenaline production definitely has moments where it soars, specifically any scene graced by the white lightening that is Kissoon, with other notable performances by Joseph Mydell as Casca who steals several scenes from both Joseph and Nri, and Brutus’ fearsome wife, Portia, played by Adjoa Andoh . However, there are also times when the production seems weakened by the heat of its own fever, rendered less powerful by its wrathful, un-nuanced delivery.

The brilliant strokes of music offered by Akintayo Akinbode, who utilizes traditional African music mingled with elements of jazz helps here, giving several scenes an emotional life and depth that might have otherwise been lost. This is most notable when Brutus asks his servant Lucius to play a song for him as he is lost in a reverie, surfacing a tenderness in their relationship that could easily pass for homoerotic undertones.
Overall this production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar is solid, successfully using its new context without feeling one bit contrived or gimmicky, in fact, only enhancing the significance of the timeless themes, granting a contemporary audience greater access by drawing suggestive parallels to current affairs of state.

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