Community theater can get a bad reputation. However, in the Washington DC area we are blessed by many amateur companies that give good performances despite not being a paid professional production. There are some inconsistencies in acting ability in all companies. It may be more pronounced in community theater, but the joy of performing is usually all the brighter whatever the quality of the production may be.
The Thespian genuinely supports when community theaters are ambitious and tackle difficult material. While several perform Shakespeare you are more likely to see the familiar Romeo and Juliet or A Midsummer Night's Dream than you are to see the inaugural production of the transformed Capital City Players who have opened their season with Julius Caesar.
The Capital City Players of Washington D.C. began as The Foundry Players more than fifty years ago. They have received accolades and awards over the years. Now they present under the thoughtful direction of Christopher Tully a production of Julius Caesar that is naturally intimate given that it is being performed in the Blackbox Theatre at the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop.
There are technical limitations in the space requiring patience as furniture pieces are moved on and off stage. While the Thespian saw the need for the set pieces given the modern time setting, the scene changes interrupt the flow of the evening. With limited lighting, Emlyn Altman, still manages to highlight crucial moments in the play.
For those unfamiliar with the play, this the the tale of the assassination of Julius Caesar, the destruction of those who kill him and the rise of the First Triumvirate, which will lead Rome from being a Republic to an Empire. (read Antony and Cleopatra for the conclusion)
There are many outstanding performances from actors who clearly are well trained in classical texts. Strong support is given by Wayne Henson as Casca, Julia Morrisey as Cinna and Jason Atkinson as Decius Brutus. While the female roles in Julius Caesar are small both Amy Rauch as Calpurnia and Mary Egan as Portia provide strong dramatic impact in their scenes.
Hugh Hill is a commander as Julius Caesar, yet shows his vulnerabilities in the face of his wife, Calpurnia's fears. Nello DeBlasio, starts competent as Mark Antony, yet brilliantly rises to a fervor in his funeral oration, showing the reasons why the assassins should have also had him killed.
Louis Pangaro brings forth Cassius' fervent desires to see Caesar die, showing that his is the driving force behind convincing Brutus to join in. As for Brutus, David Dieudonne is able to shine a light on Brutus' conflict particularly in the intimate space. His journey from Caesar's supporter to assassin to rebel to death ranges in his physicality and his soothing, yet firm voice.
Director Christopher Tully has judiciously cut the script. Given that the theater has about 50 seats, this is necessarily a chamber piece, with the focus squarely on the characters and not spectacle. In grander settings the crowds are a crucial character changing the moods of Rome as the play progresses. In the funeral oration speech of Antony's Mr. Tully has managed to convey the scope by staging the company in such a way that it is clear the message is getting out around the world in a very 21st century manner, yet Antony himself speaks clearly to the small audience as if his words were only important to the people directly in front of him.
Logistically, The Capitol Hill Arts Workshop is located in the Eastern Market section of SE D.C. Audience members should strongly consider traveling by Metro which is only two blocks away from the theater. Most of the parking is residential and restricted specifically to residential parking permits. You risk getting a ticket if you ignore the signs.
Julius Caesar will be performed through December 11 at The Blackbox Theatre at CHAW. There will be no performances Thanksgiving week. For tickets and additional performance information please visit www.capitalcityplayersdc.org.