News Ticker

Bedlam’s The Assassination of Julius Caesar as Told by William Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw

A mashup of Shakespeare and Shaw's plays about Julius Caesar intercutting the two and performed as a rehearsal.

Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Shayvawn Webster and LABOD in a scene from Bedlam’s “The Assassination of Julius Caesar as Told by William Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw” at the West End Theatre (Photo credit: Ashley Garrett)

[avatar user=”Victor Gluck” size=”96″ align=”left”] Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief[/avatar]

When Sir Laurence Olivier and his wife Vivien Leigh appeared on Broadway in an alternating repertory of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra and Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra during the 1951-52 theater season, they had a smash hit. Bedlam’s The Assassination of Julius Caesar as Told by William Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw, a mashup of Julius Caesar and Caesar and Cleopatra is likely to please no one, neither Shakespeare nor Shaw nor Bedlam aficionados. Like Bedlam’s Uncle Romeo Vanya Juliet, it does neither play any favors while making it very difficult to follow either. Those who do not know the rarely produced Shaw play will have a great deal of trouble following the excerpts enacted. At two hours and ten minutes of playing time without an intermission, the production is much too long and would have benefited from an intermission.

The play is treated like a rehearsal (a conceit also used by Bedlam in their incomprehensible and lame Henry IV workshop in Brooklyn in 2023) with the character of the director (Andrew Rothenberg who also plays Shaw’s Caesar) stopping the action periodically and breaking the mood. The costumes (production designed by director/adapter Eric Tucker, wardrobe supervisor Damarius Kennedy) are contemporary; whether this is supposed to be rehearsal clothes or a modern dress version is never made clear. (It is obviously cheaper than having to create period correct Egyptian and Roman costumes.) In terms of continuity, there are two Caesars: Rajesh Bose as Shakespeare’s Caesar and Rothenberg as Shaw’s which destroys any transition from one play to another. In fact, the segues from one text to the other are non-existent with one scene following another from the other play without any transition.

Deychen Volino-Gyetsa, Rajesh Bose and Stephen Michael Spencer in a scene from Bedlam’s “The Assassination of Julius Caesar as Told by William Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw” at the West End Theatre (Photo credit: Ashley Garrett)

The opening scene of Tucker’s adaptation begins with the death of Julius Caesar as recounted by Shakespeare about halfway through his history play, and with the hero Brutus played by a woman. The performance then switches back to Caesar’s meeting with the child Cleopatra at the foot of the Sphinx late in the evening as depicted by Shaw which chronologically comes first. The play then switches back and forth between Shakespeare and Shaw, at least keeping to the chronology in each play, reenacting most of the famous scenes but cutting a great deal. However, as all of the actors double or triple, with very few of them changing costumes, it is difficult to follow who is who, particularly with all the unfamiliar names unless one is versed in Roman history. Excising as much as the Bedlam production does gives little backstory to any of them.

The cast of eight varies in believability and intensity, some actors bland and others over the top. As Shaw’s Caesar, Andrew Rothenberg is low-key but flat (taking Shaw’s wry irony as his cue) but demanding and dictatorial as the director. Shayvawn Webster seems to have the star role first as Brutus, the hero of Julius Caesar, and then as Shaw’s Cleopatra. In both cases, she is better in the second half of the evening, Brutus in confrontation with his rival Cassius after the assassination, and the mature Cleopatra taking the reins of power.

Stephen Michael Spencer, Shayvawn Webster, Jonathan Judge-Russo, Andrew Rothenberg and Mackenzie Moyer in a scene from Bedlam’s “The Assassination of Julius Caesar as Told by William Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw” at the West End Theatre (Photo credit: Ashley Garrett)

LABOD has two plum roles but seems strange casting for both. As Cassius, one of the lead conspirators against Caesar, he does not have the lean and hungry look that is described by the others about his character, and as Cleopatra’s servant, Shaw’s invention Ftatateeta, he does not go far enough in playing this female harpy. Stephen Michael Spencer has not decided if his Marc Antony is a vapid athlete as usually played or an astute politician. He is much more successful as the soldier Rufio, confidant to Caesar.

Rajesh Bose is amusing as Shakespeare’s Caesar in his few appearances (he disappears from Shakespeare’s tragedy halfway through the play when he is assassinated and makes a stronger impression as Pothinus, guardian to Cleopatra’s brother Ptolemy, and later her prisoner. Mackenzie Moyer is a strong Portia, Brutus’ wife, but is given a good deal to do as the actress playing the part an complaining when her scene is cut. Deychen Volino-Gyetsa has three small roles, Caesar’s Roman wife Calpurnia and Shaw’s Lucius Septimius and Achillas, but seems to turn up in a great many scenes. Jonathan Judge-Russo appears as Shakespeare’s Casca, and both Shaw’s Apollodorus and Theodotus, in one of these roles wearing a cowboy hat for no accountable reason.

Andrew Rothenberg in a scene from Bedlam’s “The Assassination of Julius Caesar as Told by William Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw” at the West End Theatre (Photo credit: Ashley Garrett)

The production designed by the director uses no scenery except a folding table and assorted chairs which gives the play the look of a rehearsal. The uncredited lighting pretty much stays at the same level throughout. At times the actors drown each other out with shouting which one assumes they were directed to do, though the sound design in the upstairs amphitheater at the West End Theater is also uncredited. The costumes look like they came from the actors’ own wardrobes with no attempt at historic verisimilitude. Among the modern props which seem incongruous in these plays are guns, contemporary sunglasses and a smartphone.

While it might have worked well to produce a first act of an edited version of Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra followed by second act of a shortened version of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar with the character of Caesar the through line, Eric Tucker’s adaptation entitled The Assassination of Julius Caesar as Told by William Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw is meaningless. What is the point of intercutting the two plays while confusing modern audiences not versed in the history? We learn little of the politics of Cleopatra’s court or that of the Roman Senate, nor do we learn anything about assassination as a political tool. If it was intended to show how versatile the Bedlam actors are, it fails as many are not up to one of their several roles. It highlights the glories of neither play. Mark it up to another unsuccessful Bedlam experiment. Bedlam which used to be the most successfully adventurous theater company reconceiving classic plays in New York City seems to have lost its way.

The Assassination of Julius Caesar as Told by William Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw (through April 7, 2024)

Bedlam

West End Theatre, 263 W. 86th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, visit http://www.bedlam.org

Running time: two hours and 20 minutes without an intermission

Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

About Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief (990 Articles)
Victor Gluck was a drama critic and arts journalist with Back Stage from 1980 – 2006. He started reviewing for TheaterScene.net in 2006, where he was also Associate Editor from 2011-2013, and has been Editor-in-Chief since 2014. He is a voting member of The Drama Desk, the Outer Critics Circle, the American Theatre Critics Association, and the Dramatists Guild of America. His plays have been performed at the Quaigh Theatre, Ryan Repertory Company, St. Clements Church, Nuyorican Poets Café and The Gene Frankel Playwrights/Directors Lab.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.




This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.