The big gimmick—transplanting Shakespeare’s "Julius Caesar" from ancient Rome to shortly after the arrival in the islands of Capt. Cook—turns out to be almost irrelevant, but with superb performances by Moses Goods (Brutus) and the actor currently known as Q (Antony) in key roles, director Troy Apostol’s cross-cultural experiment opens the Ninth Annual Hawaii Shakespeare Festival in fine style.
Goods goes from triumph to triumph as Brutus, "the noblest Roman of them all," who nonetheless allows himself to be persuaded that assassinating his friend, Julius Caesar, is in the best interests of the senate and people of Rome. Goods is the biggest and most physically imposing of the actors who play the conspirators; he dominates the action in every scene he is in.
Goods displays his remarkable range in the later scenes in which Brutus wrestles with the moral consequences of his act, and again when he attempts to explain himself to his neglected wife, Portia—played with a nuanced blend of passion, emotional strength and vulnerability by Marissa Robello.
Q emerges from the ensemble after the assassination when Antony assures the conspirators that he understands their motives and supports them—and then rallies the people of Rome against them. The opening line of Antony’s funeral oration for Caesar—"Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears …"—is one of the best-known quotes from all of Shakespeare’s works, and Q brings the oration to life in brilliant style. He plays the scene as a cynical exercise in acting by Antony, who appears to be manipulating the gullible masses of Rome with the same skill and self-interest he used when lying to the conspirators.
» Where: The Arts at Marks Garage, 1159 Nuuanu Ave.
Q brings similar depth to later scenes in which Antony is allied with Caesar’s heir, Octavius. Watching Antony condescend to Octavius, we see that Antony underestimates the man who will eventually destroy him.
Several other performers also shine. Marcus Lee (Cassius) exudes malevolence as the instigator of the conspiracy and mastermind of the plot-within-a-plot that brings Brutus into the conspiracy; Michael "Donut" Donato (Decius Brutus) also stands out among the conspirators. Wil Kahele is solid and stately in the title role, and Lisa Anne Nilsen (Calpurnia) owns two pivotal scenes as Caesar’s wife.
D. Tafa’i Silipa (Casca/Octavius) adds one of the few effective localisms by delivering his lines as Casca with pidgin inflections. His work so pleased the audience on Saturday that he received a midshow ovation. (Silipa drops the accent and effeminate mannerisms when playing Octavius after intermission.)
As for the cross-cultural gimmick, the men wear malo and carry traditional Hawaiian weapons, but other than that, and a brief chant and the use of Hawaiian nose flute in a scene requiring music, there is little else of traditional Hawaii to be found. The male actors of all shapes and sizes make an admirable commitment to wearing the Hawaiian attire of the period; the women do not commit to comparable attire and appear to be wearing whatever they were able to pull out of a Salvation Army donation bin.
Apostol’s decision to have women play male roles while dressed as women is problematic in creating the impression that women participated in the assassination and that Cassius sent his wife into harm’s way at Philippi rather than one of his male comrades-in-arms.