The celebration begins even before the audience enters the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Harvey Theater for Julius Caesar. Commoners dance, revel, and rejoice to the buoyant beat of an on-stage band, all the while waving flags and funeral fans that bear the face of their beloved Caesar. While posing for a group photo, they don’t say ”Cheese!” — they say, ”Caesar!” And that massive statue hovering at the back of the stage? Yep — you guessed it. The band, incidentally, is named the Vibes of March.
The London-based Royal Shakespeare Company has transplanted Shakespeare’s Roman tragedy to modern-day Africa — a clever idea that never seems unnatural or gimmicky. (One word: Gaddafi.) But the party doesn’t last long. Once the scheming unfolds and the murderers carve Caesar’s (Jeffery Kissoon) body into something resembling Swiss cheese — or, as his wife (Samantha Lawson) dreamt, ”a fountain with an hundred spouts [that] did run pure blood” — there’s no more dancing in the streets. (An assassination can really harsh a buzz.) And aside from an impassioned ”friends, romans, countrymen” funeral speech, delivered with bubbling fury by the square-jawed, broad-shouldered Ray Fearon as Mark Antony, there’s not much more vibrancy in this nearly three-hour production, which runs through April 28.
Gone is the fire in conspirator-in-chief Caius Cassius (Cyril Nri); as a soldier, he turns pouty and petulant. Even the intellectual, charismatic Brutus (Paterson Joseph) loses some of his luster once Caesar falls. No one ever said civil war was sexy. But you’ve got to care about who?s knifing whom in act five.
(Tickets: BAM.org or 718-636-4100)