JULIUS CAESAR, Stage Left Theatre. A year ago, the ChicSpeare Production Company turned William Shakespeare's history play into an allegory of Chicago's racial politics, making Caesar a Harold Washington-like black leader murdered by an evil cabal of white opponents. Now Stage Left sets the ancient Roman tale in a generically modern, vaguely paramilitary milieu, imagining Caesar (Christian Murphy) as a cult leader, his assassin Brutus (Larry Dahlke) as a business-suited bureaucrat, and the avenger Antony (Jennifer Bradley) as a woman in dark glasses and black leather jacket.
Shakespeare's tale of a coup turned in upon itself comes through loud and clear under Drew Martin's direction, and the tiny stage (well designed by Robert G. Smith and Jessi Hill and lit by Kevin Heckman) hums with activity, ranging from some very noisy, very bloody fight scenes to a downright silly S-M orgy. But the play's passion and power lie in its language, and here the production mostly fails. With the notable exception of Laura Jones Macknin as Brutus's wife, Portia, the 13 cast members deliver their lines with crisp but colorless clarity, substituting energy for emotion and missing almost all the nuance and rhythm of the poetry. Martin's brisk pace pushes the story along but leaves little time for the audience to consider the play's moral or psychological implications. In this first attempt at the Bard, Stage Left displays more ambition than authority.