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To praise ‘Caesar’

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“Would all these people dressed in punk/Goth attire be the cast of Julius Caesar?” the writer wondered as she passed through a throng of them at the loading bay of Long Island City’s Secret Theatre. They would be, it turned out, and it’s not surprising for a company who performed “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” with everyone in their pajamas. But even beyond the costumes, this version of the Bard’s “Julius Caesar,” directed superbly by Richard Mazda, was filled with delights and surprises.

For one thing, the audience, led by the aggrieved soothsayer (Kaitlyn McGuire Huczko), is moved around quite a bit. We sit through the first act in one theater, stand and sit among the actors in the loading bay for crowd scenes, go downstairs to the low-ceilinged room that serves as Brutus’ study, then return to the first theater for the concluding acts. All the while the sounds of the outside world, like the clatter of the No. 7 train directly above, add an extra tension to the drama. (The previous night, the tornado swept through Queens. The writer was almost sorry she missed that night’s performance!)

“Julius Caesar,” for all its action, is a talky play about the dangers of tyranny and the chaos that can erupt when that tyranny is removed by violent means. Traditionally, most of the large cast is male, and the wives of Brutus and Caesar are the only females with substantial speaking roles. The Queens Players’ cast was roughly half and half, which gave the proceedings a nice fillip of eroticism; Cassius (Anthony Martinez) and Casca (Rachel Pfennigwerth) appear to be friends with benefits, at least. The women, dressed in their black leather and studs, are at least as dangerous as the men; during the Brutus-in-the-basement scene, the writer stood next to a young lady wielding a truly scary-looking long knife.

But the principals, Brutus, Cassius, Marc Antony and Caesar, are still played by men — one can’t get too crazy, after all — and they are excellent. Alex Cape is a surprisingly gentle and thoughtful Brutus who, like so many regicidaires, convinces himself he’s acting in the best interest of his society. Martinez is a sexy and hotheaded Cassius, and Gil Ron, dressed in long white tunic and kaffiyeh, gives his orations a distinct Tony Soprano flavor. Were the Caesars just glorified mob bosses, after all?

David J. Fink, with his trusty baseball bat, creates a deceptively laconic Marc Antony. He’s like a snake who waits quietly in the grass until it’s time to strike. Also notable are Sarah Bonner as Brutus’ wife, angry and bewildered as he tells her nothing of his plans, and Suzanne Lenz as Caesar’s wife, whose bad dream almost gets him to stay home on the Ides of March.

Brian Walters brings the comic relief as Brutus’ dimwitted and affable serving boy, and Pfennigwerth is slinky and menacing as Casca. Jonathan Emerson is also good as an indignant but ready Octavius, Julius’ very young adopted heir.

Jeffrey Coyne has a brief but arresting role as Cinna the poet. Mistaken for one of the assassins, he’s dragged off and murdered by the furious and grief-stricken mob. Also good in multiple roles are Ashley Denise Robinson, Lena Gora, Amelia Gonzales, Greer Samuels, Tyrus Holden, Joe Mullen, Jake Cullens, Elizabeth Bernhardt, Michelle Pucci, Bethanne Haft, Brian Walters, Camilla Skoglie, Kara Addington and Michael Pichardo.

Julius Caesar is another triumph for The Queens Players. It’ll be at the Secret Theatre through Oct. 2.

If You Go

Julius Caesar

Cost: $15 advance, $18 at door

When: Remaning dates Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 and 2 at 8 p.m.

Where: The Secret Theatre, 44-02 23rd St., Long Island City

Contact: Richard Mazda info@thequeensplayers.com 718-392-0722

Web site: www.thequeensplayers.com

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