By Kevin Zimmerman
To experience the cult of personality today, one need only stream the political drama “House of Cards,” or catch Republican presidential front runner Donald Trump expounding on whatever issue is getting traction with his followers that day.
But charismatic leaders, who understand the power of whipping up a crowd to a frenzy with their words, have been around since long before the invention of mass communications.
William Shakespeare even wrote about it back in 1599 with his tragic play “Julius Caesar,” now on stage in a new production by the Titan Theatre Co. through April 10 at the Queens Theatre.
With this sleek, loud and flashy version, Titan once again proves its mettle as the borough’s top theater company.
Granted there were a few missteps—some of the supporting players got director Jack Young’s note on being louder and unfortunately took it to the extreme every time they opened their mouths—but for the most part, Titan’s troupe along with a slate of guest actors delivered a stirring evening of political drama.
Young, who helms the Houston Shakespeare Festival and University of Houston’s professional actor training program, brings the action very much to today while keeping it rooted in its historical time.
The cast is in modern dress and barefooted throughout the proceedings.
“Feet are a tell,” Young, who adapted this production, said. “You can tell how much someone is telling the truth by watching their feet fidget.”
Fidgeting may be missing, but the cast keeps their feet moving in choreographed fights as well as the glorious scene in which Caesar is raised above the senators heads as each plunges an imaginary knife into his body, producing real stage blood in the process.
As Caesar, Jonathan Smoots delivers a nuanced and understated performance as a man destined for greatness, followed by a great fall. In the few scenes in which he appears—as with all of Titan’s Shakespeare productions, this is a heavily edited, 90-minute version—he commands the audience’s full attention with his words and actions.
Laura Frye, a Titan veteran, serves up another near-perfect performance as Portia.
In her one scene with Brutus, Frye convenes the urgency of a woman desperate to be a full-fledged partner to her husband.
She pleads with him to confide in her and allow her to share in the burden that weighs so heavily on his conscience. But Frye understands in order for Portia to be a real partner, she must keep her arguments clear and not slip into hysteria. It is a fine line that Portia must straddle, and Frye executes it beautifully.
But the real standout proves to be Brendan Marshall-Rashid’s Marc Antony.
Marshall-Rashid, who had a small role in Titan’s 2014 production of “King Lear,” rightfully takes his place center stage.
Antony is the play’s showy part with most of the best lines—“Friends, Romans, countrymen…”—and it would be easy for an actor to slip into nothing more than simple recitation.
But Marshall-Rashid honestly conveys Antony’s sadness at the loss of his friend Casear. He also beautifully captures the perfect mix of anger, disgust and woefulness that is needed to stir the crowd to action against the murderers.
This Antony understands that real power comes from knowing how to massage the message to get what you want in the end.
If You Go
When: Through April 10
Where: Queens Theatre, 14 United Nations Ave., South, Flushing Meadows Corona Park
Contact: (718) 760-0064
Reach News Editor Kevin Zimmerman by e-mail at kzimm