Caesar! Sort of . . . .
Lawrence Goldhuber knows how to put on a darn entertaining good show, and bless him for that. His "Julius Caesar Superstar" was not the most profound or sophisticated of performances, but it was highly theatrical, imaginatively designed, and the performers delivered their material with gusto and flair. They also seemed to be enjoying themselves tremendously in the process.
In its closing minutes it suddenly veered in the direction of message-laden theater that did not seem fully justified by what had come before, but its turn towards the blatantly political was also accomplished with such good cheer and mock-showbiz trappings that one hardly felt like one was being hit over the head.
On Broadway, it is the role of Marc Antony that is currently being played by a superstar—Denzel Washington—but in Goldhuber's one-hour dance-drama telescoping and sending up the Shakespearean play, it was the eponymous returning warrior that is played by the brilliantly cast Robert LaFosse. While he has a level of dance-world recognition from his many years as a principal with both ABT and NYCB that gives him the air of visiting royalty in a downtown performance, he also has often collaborated with innovative choreographers and performance artists far removed from the world of Lincoln Center. So while he could convincingly exude an air of patrician nobility and triumphal acknowledgement as he gestured loftily toward the masses from a balcony, he also sustained a sly sense of complicity in the generally campy approach of the goings-on.
Goldhuber, who brought his distinctive rotund vigor and witty presence to the works of Bill T. Jones before heading off to shape his own projects, assembled a diverse cast of 16 that included many performance veterans and strong, distinctive presences. Eight of them, including Goldhuber, portrayed the Roman senators, and they were cast for their size and girth. Taking a cue from Caesar's mistrust of Cassius with his "lean and hungry look" and his desire to "have men about me that are fat," these conspirators are galumphing hefties, artfully draped in size XXX togas trimmed in red (hinting at their bloody intentions?). Three of them were actually women, with heavily padded fat suits required to fill out their proportions. Their introductory group dance, set to Handel's exuberant "Arrival of the Queen of Sheba" (from "Solomon") was a deliberately simply folk-flavored romp that has the giddy guilelessness of kids at play. They lurched, rocked from side to side, and ended by tumbling with relief to the floor.
If we were meant to see these supposedly powerful and influential senators as lumbering fools, we were certainly not meant to view Caesar as an serious and effectual leader. His arrival announced by heralds, La Fosse appeared on the St. Mark's balcony, in a gilded toga and red cloak, going through the rote, vacant posturings of a politician accepting his nomination. He entered the main space below ushered in by four pretty-boy centurions in gleaming breastplates and simply white skirts. In his delightfully preposterous solo, La Fosse skillfully suggested a heroic imbecile. He must have had a grand time mentally reliving various heroes from his ABT days, as he performed Goldhuber's good-natured send-up of such roles—culminating in a pose with the four muscular young guys artfully reclining around him.
The versatile foursome then shed their breastplates to become nubile slaves to the indolent, debauched Caesar and the pompous senators, who lazed around the St. Mark's altar with an air of entitlement. La Fosse seemed to have a grand old time reclining on a settee, consuming a bunch of grapes, and alternately summoning and dismissing the ever-more-willing slaves. But he had to confront reality in the form of a hunched, fierce soothsayer (Micki Wesson) at whom he laughed scornfully but engaged in a physical tussle.
For the succeeding scene, three of the muscular guys posed naked in artful profile as the décor of The Baths, where the senators lazed around and presumably hatched their conspiracy. The amalgam of Roman and gay bathhouse was cleverly and cheekily evoked, behind a filmy sheet of fabric, on which was haunting video of Caesar's troubled, fearful face in close-up and profile was then projected.
For the "Hearing" in which Wesson served as a ceremonial judge, the senators became contemporary men, dressed in dark suits. La Fosse became more like Jesus Christ Superstar in this scene, wearing a glorified gleaming loincloth and posing in a crucifixion posture and exuding a sacrificial air. The senators surround him, attacking him with literal red tape, which they wrap around parts of his body, until he falls, lying on the ground in utter silence. When he rises, it is to perform a wrenching solo that clearly alludes to that of Balanchine's "Prodigal Son" in his direst moment, after being tormented and abandoned. Dazed and unsteady, barely able to rise, La Fosse performed this sequence with the utmost seriousness and focus.
Suddenly, a burst of smoke in the church's entryway deposited the divinely morose and slightly kooky Keely Garfield, as Lady Macbeth (she makes sure we recognize her identity by rubbing her hands feverishly). She stumbled and looked disoriented (as if to say, "hold on a minute, I'm in the wrong Shakespearean drama here") before coming to La Fosse's aid, a figure of succor and melancholy acceptance. This was accompanied by eerie, throbbing electrified cello music (Geoff Gersh performed his score live on cello from a corner, interspersed throughout the evening with recorded Baroque selections).
The incongruous, if entertaining, final scene brought the now-contemporary senators and younger guys back in full patriotic garb—plenty of red, white and blue, including sashes and party hats—to sing about a "brand new day" while confetti fluttered from above. This abrupt switch and implied political commentary didn't quite add up, and whatever parallels or allusions are being made to the shallow fat cats of the current political scene are not drawn all that convincingly. But Goldhuber (with a strong assist from Liz Prince's costumes) had certainly offered us a deliciously enjoyable and sweetly unpretentious pageant along the way.
James Schriebl Photography