Drove out this evening several miles up the twisty mountain roads to a small, dirt-floored and bug-bestrewn outdoor amphitheater in a state park for a local Shakespeare company's production of Julius Caesar.
In a vaguely contemporary setting with crowd and battle sound effects in the background, it was a solid small-scale production. Cassius and a number of smaller parts (Lucius, Decius, Tintinius, Messala, others) were played by women. I don't mind that at all, and the actress playing Cassius was vividly cast (middle-aged, stocky, stern, and appropriately dressed in a military uniform from the start), but the pronouns were changed for individual references, which made rhythmic hash of Caesar's famous speech. Confusingly, though, groups including cross-cast women were still referred to as "men".
This play really rides on Cassius and Brutus and the relationship between them. The players in these roles were adequate, and that's praise from me. They showed individual character, they spoke their lines with expression, they had reactive interactivity. But they lacked the overwhelming compelling quality that makes great Shakespeare great. The best acting came in some smaller parts: Casca, whose big descriptive speech was both vivid and comic, and Portia, whose pleas to Brutus made for the play's most moving scene.
Brutus was harried and distracted, which probably explains his bad decision-making. Mark Antony was small and peppy, which probably explains his gift for speech-making. Octavian was big and flaccid and looked on the verge of forgetting his lines, which probably explains why he went on to become Emperor. And Caesar looked and dressed like a Mexican drug lord, which probably explains why he got assassinated.