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Julius Kingfish

Georgia Shakespeare Festival transfers Caesar to the South

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No matter what the setting, Shakespeare's critique of power politics in Julius Caesar holds up, from the Roman Forum to the White House, and even to Louisiana. The latter locale provides the backdrop for the Georgia Shakespeare Festival's first production of the play in its 16-year history, a muscular staging inspired by the Depression-era assassination of Gov. Huey "Kingfish" Long.

In director John Dillon's conception, the festivities of the play's beginning become Mardi Gras, with bead-wearing revelers filling the theater. Bruce Evers' brawny, bossy performance in the title role helps flesh out the notion of Caesar as a Southern demagogue. One of the quirks of the play is that the title role is something of a supporting player, with our attention more closely focused on the conspirators -- conniving Cassius (Chris Kayser, suitably Machiavellian) and noble Brutus (Charles Horton, occasionally too contemplative).

Here, the mob assault on the innocent Cinna (Anthony Irons) becomes a lynching, a creative choice that simply seems a justification for a horrific moment that doesn't fit the content of the text, despite its power and relevance to regional history. But following the intermission, Act Two begins by multiplying the image, with set designer Paul Owen offering such a shocking tableau that the Roman revolution of the play's remainder seems trivial by comparison.

The half-hour second act has few highlights apart from that, but overall the Festival presents an absorbing, exciting Julius Caesar, with Saxon Palmer passionately reading Marc Antony's funeral oration (a textbook case of mob manipulation). Julius Caesar shows that when the Georgia Shakespeare Festival's creative lights successfully collaborate, they threaten to usurp the role of the Alliance Theatre in providing rich, spectacular Atlanta theater.

Julius Caesar plays through Nov. 27 at the Georgia Shakespeare Festival, 4484 Peachtree Road, with performances at 8 p.m. Tues.-Sat. and 2 and 8 p.m. Sun. $20-27. Call 404-264-0020.

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