Denzel: Et Tu Brutus?

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“Et tu, Brute?� were the dying words uttered by Julius Caesar when he realized his dear friend Brutus had betrayed him.

However, Denzel Washington in portraying Marcus Brutus at the Belasco Theatre, does not betray his audience. Although, some felt Denzel’s performance did not supercede the performances of Eamonn Walker (Marc Anthony) or Colm Feore (Cassius) both whom played their roles spectacularly. Denzel held his own on Opening night, April 3rd and this reviewer believes that he should not be written off so quickly as some critics have done. I suspect Washington will become increasingly comfortable in the role and prove his flair for it. After all, it is not that different from former roles he has played on film.The play is a “Soldier’sâ€? story.  Denzel is a man’s man, his bearing and form on stage is that of a solider as well as that of a politician and gentle man. 

Brutus, it seems, was quite complex. A man who loved Caesar well yet was willing to slay him for the good of the nation. Brutus believed the policies of Caesar was a clear and present danger to the welfare of Rome and the Roman people. Thus, he was swayed by the urgings of others who also felt that Caesar was involving Rome in far too many wars and conquests of too many lands thus causing Rome to pay too high a price for his ambition; although, this fact, was subtle in the play and could bear further inspection as outlined.

One wonders if it was the intention of Tony-Award-winning director Daniel Sullivan and producers Carole Shorenstein Hays and Freddy DeMann, to do a rather tongue and cheek reflection upon a current emperor and a faltering Rome which lie closer to the Atlantic Ocean than the Mediterrean Sea, when they instituted conflicting time periods. Although, one cannot mess with Shakespeare’s old English, depictive of an ancient era, the timelines were most definitely crossed and blurred between ancient times and modern day. In fact one is reminded of Che Guevara in some scenes and revolutionaries from almost anywhere in others. Though, this caused somewhat of a contradiction since Caesar was killed via sword and much of the deaths within the inner circle of conspirators by way of sword, yet they were all in possession of guns in this version. Also, while the set gave the flavor of a dying Rome, one couldn’t tell if they were in Rome, Afghanistan, Iraq or some war-torn country or ghetto of modern day. The set did not ring true because during the era of Caesar, Rome was at its grandeur; so perhaps, we are to cast a wary eye toward the correlation between Rome’s political clime, and that of a present day Caesar.

It’s been awhile since Denzel Washington graced the Broadway stage and theatre can be a more demanding genre, quite different from the quick takes involved in filmmaking. In theatre, one has to rise to the occasion or fall flat on their face. The audience is right there in the actor's face to either woo or boo them. In finding his bearing in Julius Caesar, Washington may sway a little but he is hardly falling on his face and there is every sign that he will rise to the occasion. Washington is an actor with plenty of chops. He is a fine actor that demonstrates his skills and acting aplomb in Julius Caesar as he has done in most of the roles he has undertaken. Although, I will add his delivery was not as passionate as that of Eamonn Walker who is known for his role in HBO’s “Ozâ€?or that of William Sadler another wonderful actor who played the role of Julius Caesar. 

Although Denzel embodied that gentle soul that was Brutus there were times within the play that it did not come across that Brutus was the great friend that so loved Julius Caesar and who Caesar so loved. Caesar was shocked to find Brutus among the conspirators that took his life. I am unclear if this inability to show the close bond between Caesar and Brutus is the fault of the script or the fault of the actor. Not enough detail was shown to explain why these conspirators turned against Caesar who was depicted as undesiring of greater stature than he already possessed.

Call it the sign of a long ago era, but the female roles in the play seemed to be merely filler. Tamar Tunie who currently stars on both "Law and Order: SUV" and "As the World Turns" plays the role of Calpurnia, Caesar’s wife. Yet, she could just as well have been one of Caesar’s concubines for all the persuasion she had over Caesar in this role. I have to say the same for Jessica Hecht who plays Portia, the wife of Brutus. I know both ladies to be fine actresses but one did not get the opportunity to see them exercise the skills and talents they both possess in this play. 

Julius Caesar is clearly a man’s play. It is also a play rife with tv and film stars. William Sadler is known for his roles in “The Shawshank Redemption,â€? “The Green Mileâ€? and “Die Hard II.â€?  Jack Willis who plays Casca was in the film “The Talented Mr. Ripley,â€? “Cradle Will Rock,â€? and in television’s “Third Watch,â€? “Law & Orderâ€? and “Dallas.â€?  Many remember Colm Feore in the “Chronicles of Riddick,â€? “Chicago,â€?  and “Trudeau.â€?  Jessica Hecht is known for her roles in “Friends, “Seinfeld,â€? “Homicide,â€? “The Jury,â€? “Sideways,â€? and the “Forgotten.â€?  Kelly AuCoin who plays the part of Octavius Caesar appeared in “A Perfect Fit,â€? “Ghost Dance,â€? “A Normal Life,â€? “The Sopranos,â€? “Guiding Lightâ€? and Law & Order.â€?

Friends, Countrymen, and theatre goers lend me your ear, Julius Caesar, which opened on Sunday, April 3rd at the Belasco Theatre, located at 111 West 44th Street, is on Broadway for an exclusive engagement of 112 performances and is slated to end on Sunday, June 12th  so if you wish to see the play go see it soon.

Ms. Shuler is The Black Star News's Entertainment editor and can be reached through For more reports, please order the newsstand edition of the newspaper by clicking on “subscribe� on the homepage or call (212) 481-7745.

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