There's an interesting topical overlay to Collaborative Arts Theatre's update of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. The newly "elected" head-of-state is black, and the mastermind of his assassination, Cassius, is a woman. Bulletins of Caesar's election and overthrow are presented CNN-style, projected on an imposing upstage screen at McGlohon Theatre with a slick crawl line sweeping across the bottom of the frame. Nifty work by video editor Ron Cook.
Regal, overconfident and grinning, Jonavan Adams' take on Caesar is delightful, particularly in his interactions with his timorous wife Calpurnia (Shon Wilson) and the Soothsayer (Corlis Hayes). Eventually, director Elise Wilkinson even has the nerve to bring Adams back in grayface as Caesar's ghost. You might say that Andrea King went halfway to Cassius in the opening of Collaborative's 2009 Charlotte Shakespeare Festival with her portrayal of Sir Andrew Aguecheek in Twelfth Night. Here the gender bending extends to the character, and King is more than twice as brilliant as Cassius, sometimes imparting a Clintonesque patina to the schemer.
Like many a Shakespeare update, the contemporary concept crumbles when buffeted by sustained collisions with the text. What starts out as an intriguing Obama-Hillary analogy veers off into a stylish no-man's land, equally adrift from Roman history and contemporary relevance.
That doesn't prevent us from seeing through the concept and finding the characters Shakespeare wrote with such masterful objectivity. Joe Copley endows Brutus with more urbanity than we're used to, nothing like the Machiavellian firebrand we find in Chaz Pofahl's sharply calibrated Marc Antony.
Wilkinson and Collaborative abridge, emend and shuffle the Bard's drama, with a live TV camera ratcheting up the excitement for the climactic funeral orations. We're not convincingly in Rome or Washington, but Collaborative's Caesar, when it does click, takes us to the vibrant, intoxicating enigma at the heart of all high-stakes politics.