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Beware the Ides of March: Julius Caesar Migrates to Africa

BAM's spring season continues with The Royal Shakespeare Company's US debut of Julius Caesar at the Harvey Lichtenstein Theater. Set in present day Africa with an all black cast, Shakespeare's words have a new resonance when juxtaposed with Africa's recent political history. Caesar was a favorite of Nelson Mandela's and the text was passed among those incarcerated at Robben Island for apartheid uprisings. This inspired the RSC's Artistic Director, Gregory Doran, to move the play from Rome to Africa. In an interview with the Telegraph (UK) Doran explained the aftermath of a revolution is where the trouble really begins: "…we realized the key thing was not are they going to get rid of Qaddafi; the key thing is what happens next. And that's the big political issue in Julius Caesar, too: what happens after the assassination."

The African backdrop is visually striking and makes the performance more accessible to audience members who may not be versed in Shakespeare. Instead of distracting from the plot, the new setting enhances it; when the stage is occupied by a group of men in fatigues holding guns and machetes the seemingly abstract idea of a political conspiracy is understood immediately. Live music composed by Akintayo Akinbode is performed throughout, adding to the lush atmosphere and enhancing the suspense. A shaman replaces the soothsayer as the one to warn Caesar of the Ides of March, and the closeness of the spirit world is felt throughout. Despite the warning, Caesar is ultimately betrayed by his friends in a bloody and expertly choreographed assassination.

The dynamic cast is comprised of classically trained RSC veterans, with Cyril Nri as Cassius, Anjoa Andoh as Portia, and Jeffrey Kissoon as Caesar. Ray Fearon brings a frightening level of intensity to the role of Mark Antony, and Paterson Joseph is brilliant as Brutus, simultaneously calculating and empathetic. It's worth noting that the actors speak Elizabethan English with African accents, a risky choice that is flawlessly executed.

Doran's incarnation of Julius Caesar is devastatingly beautiful, and we're extremely lucky that the US premier is here in Brooklyn. Get your tickets while they’re still available - this is not to be missed.

Now through April 28th at the BAM Harvey Theater, 651 Fulton Street. For tickets visit http://www.bam.org

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