Theater Review: JULIUS CAESAR (Warriors for Peace at the Hudson Theatre in Hollywood)

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by Dale Reynolds on December 18, 2019

in Theater-Los Angeles

HAIL, CAESAR!

Shakespeare’s 1599 history play has, of course, had many lives – conservative as well as wildly interpretive – which has kept the slain Dictator of Rome in the forefront of our histories. Some directors have kept to the known facts as imagined by the Bard, and some have modernized it for contemporary comment.

A relatively new theatrical troupe, Warriors for Peace, based in Los Angeles, is a collaboration of U.S. service veterans and civilians, which aims to provide catharsis for service personnel returned from active duty in war zones and to declare for the principals of global citizenship by casting with a blind-eye to race, gender, sexuality, and political stances.

Under the astute and sensitive eye of director Ann Noble, several of the lead roles are played against type, all successfully. Starting with Leah Zhan as a non-arrogant Caesar; Tori Danner as Mark Antony; Nathanial Nonhof as scheming Cassius; stand-out trans-actor Kaci Hamilton as Messala and a vibrant wife to Brutus (WFP co-founder Christopher Loverro); Oscar Best as Calpurnia, wife to Caesar and as a soldier, Titinius; Loren Fenton as Casca and as Strato; and Vikrant Sahdev as the wise Cinna the Poet.

Director Noble has also invented a Greek chorus, as it were, with three dancers, Shelley O’Rourke, Alex Meridy, and Trevor Helms, who move furniture, support the other characters, and add to crowd scenes — all three pitch-perfect in their grace and agility to maintain a reality that adds to the tension and completion of the drama.

A lack of budget (undoubtedly) has contributed to a modesty of rolling screen sets (design by David Zahacewski), which is made up for by Amy Sutterfund’s imaginative costume design, incorporating as it does real contemporary army fatigues and classy flowing scarves on the characters.

What saves this production from just being Liberal Politics Messing With The Classic is that most of the actors are dead-on in their characterizations, with classical verbal training, making most of the dialogue meaningful. There may be one detractor (an amateur) and Danner’s Mark Antony constantly losing the last of words in sentences, while being “sincere,” the authenticity of the performances are for all to admire.

With Best making his Calpurnia solidly poetic, Loverro adding strength as the blindly patriotic Brutus, Zhan’s stoic Caesar, and Hamilton’s authority as Portia, Brutus’s wife, this company is one to watch out for.

As part of their Mission Statement, “the Company is driven by the core values of empowerment, diversity, tribe, trust and resiliency,” which is most of what makes this latest version of Julius Caesar so compelling, entertaining, and meaningful. It proves that full diversity, married to talent and experience, can make any piece of theater relevant and striking.

Go see it as once!

Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar
Warriors for Peace Theatre
Hudson Mainstage Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd
Fri at 8; Sat at 2 & 8; Sun at 2
ends on December 22, 2019
for tickets (free for veterans), call 323.856.4249 or visit Plays411

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