Blood is traditionally not shed in Shakespeare's tragedy "Julius Caesar" until the conspirators collectively stab Caesar in the Senate. But in Lucy Bailey's excessively violent production, animalistic warfare is displayed from the very beginning.
As an opening sequence, Bailey reaches all the way back to the founding of Rome. She shows Romulus and Remus wrestling to the death in front of an image of the Capitoline Wolf, the famous bronze sculpture of them suckling off their wolf mother as children.
Of the five plays being presented this summer by the Royal Shakespeare Company at the Park Avenue Armory, "Julius Caesar" is the least often performed. Even if Bailey's visceral touches often overwhelm the text, this production is quite entertaining and considerably better than the 2005 Broadway revival starring Denzel Washington.
Bailey treats the play as if it were an action thriller or gruesome video game. She utilizes computer graphics projected onto the back wall, conjuring massive crowds of plebeians and scenes of stormy nights and Rome on fire. Likewise, the band blasts their horns to produce a jarring effect.
As Brutus, Sam Troughton stresses the meditative and sensitive qualities that ultimately prove to be the character's tragic flaws. Since Troughton was injured a few weeks ago during a matinee of "Romeo & Juliet," he incorporates a cane into his performance that actually emphasizes Brutus' frailty.
Greg Hicks brings the same reckless self-love and impatience that he showed as King Lear to his portrayal of Julius Caesar. Even after his character's death, Hicks returns as a ghostly presence to stab Brutus himself.
Darrell D'Silva reinvents Mark Antony as a coarse, drunken and overweight fraternity kingpin. In spite of the novelty, it's hard to believe that a Jim Belushi look-alike would have the oratorical powers to make the crowds turn against Brutus and the other conspirators.
If you go: "Julius Caesar" plays at the Park Avenue Armory through Aug. 13. 643 Park Ave., 212-721-6500, lincolncenterfestival.com.