See Scena’s Julius Caesar Before It Departs

At The Atlas Performing Arts Center Until Sept. 24

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Get thee to H Street to see a remarkable production of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” before it closes on Sept. 24. Directed by Robert McNamara, artistic director of the Scena Theatre, it packs a wallop with a talented cast on a small stage. The production draws in the audience to the drama of assassination, which leaves the Roman Republic on the ropes and sets the stage for empire.

Set in the contemporary DC, the director dresses the characters as fascist military officers in dark business suits and blood-crimson shirts. McNamara, as Caesar, reminds one of Martin Scorsese in the Godfather.  Three TV monitors, set above the stage display as cable-TV “breaking news,” track each step in Caesar’s demise. Rome’s elite egged on by scheming Cassius, given a standout performance by Scena Theatre-regular David Bryan Jackson, plot the great man’s murder. Jackson’s skillful facial dramatics and gestures frame his character’s artful cunning and deception.

The play is named for Caesar. However, his is a supporting role appearing in only three scenes, speaking fewer than 150 lines. He is dead by Act III, the midpoint of the action. Yet, he remains the play’s dramatic subject.

Brutus, “Shakespeare’s first intellectual,” is the plays protagonist. He is played by handsome Ian Blackwell Rogers whose dark curly hair and appearance reminds one of Edgar Allen Poe. Brutus fears the power Caesar’s populism. What would Caesar establishment as “dictator” do to his Republic? Steeped in a sense of “honor,” Brutus struggles with his civic duty quickly falling prey to Cassius’s seductive sophistries.

McNamara has trimmed considerably the length of the original play. This makes for a swift two hours with no intermission. There are five more performances. Tickets ($15-$40) are available at the Atlas Performing Arts Center box office, 1333 H St. NE, or by phone at 202-399-7993, or online at www.scenatheatre.org.

David Hoffman is a freelance journalist covering arts and entertainment. He lives on Capitol Hill and is past vice president for programs at the Woman’s National Democratic Club, at Dupont Circle.