Theater review: 'Julius Caesar' -- 3.5 stars
This fall's marathon of high-profile Shakespeare revivals, which started on a wan note with the bloodless "Romeo and Juliet" on Broadway with a motorcycle-riding Orlando Bloom, finally kicks into gear with Phyllida Lloyd's all-female, prison-set "Julius Caesar," which premiered at London's Donmar Warehouse and is now at Brooklyn's St. Ann's Warehouse.
Virtually everyone knows that Shakespeare's plays were originally performed by companies of men in Elizabethan and Jacobean England, but all-male stagings of Shakespeare still occasionally pop up. All-female Shakespeare, however, is rare.
Directed by Phyllida Lloyd, whose significant accomplishments in classical theater have been eclipsed by the mega- success of "Mamma Mia!," this production of Shakespeare's political thriller begins with audience members entering the theater in clumps through industrial gates and being directed by prison guards to their plastic chairs.
The uniform-wearing female prisoners, who vary greatly in age, proceed to perform the play in a harsh atmosphere of metal catwalks, heavy-metal music and harsh lighting.
The play serves as a cathartic exercise for the women, letting them acknowledge their fury but showing an end result of chaos.
It is filled with inventive touches, such as having Caesar deliver his final lines straight into a nearby video camera.
The acting is extraordinary, especially Harriet Walter's fine turn as a forlorn Brutus, Clare Dunne's visibly pregnant, absolutely urgent Portia and Frances Barber's macho, boisterous Caesar.
If you go: "Julius Caesar" plays at St. Ann's Warehouse at 29 Jay St. through Nov. 3, 718-254-8779, stannswarehouse.org.