Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar" in the hands of Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre, has been stripped of its superstitious characters and less significant scenes, act on a huge bare stage with several platforms and an immense vertical rectangle, and had its antique continues changed for grim modern civilian suits and Fascist uniforms. Thereby after the first few moments of apparent incongruity have passed, it is a stark, harrowing picture of mob passion and dictatorship.
The play itself has been little altered. The familiar rabble-rousing harangue of Mark Antony is still the potent climax. The terror of the situation and the violence of the passions released by the demagogue are starkly symbolized by the casting of a gigantic shadow of the orator high up on the white brick wall in back. The events of the civil war following the assassination of Caesar are barely touched upon, and Caesar's ghost does not appear at all. Brutus dies almost immediately after Cassias. The play ends suddenly with its apology for its conscientious here, Brutus, and with one's impression of the murder and the tide-turning speech still vividly in mind.
The whole tragedy, by means of the judicious cutting, is packed into an hour and a half. This brevity allows the tension to be sustained throughout the entire play, and the curtain does not fall till the end. The lights go out to indicate the change of scene, but there are no sets to be shifted, and consequently the intermissions of darkness last only a few seconds. The happy circumstance that Shakespeare wrote without presupposing any scenery prevents any possible confusion over where the events are taking place.
Caesar himself has been transformed from Mussolini into Hitler, complete with hair hanging in his face and nervous uneasiness. Possibly the reason for preferring the Teuton to the Latin is that in the play so much is made of the dictator's bodily infirmities, all of which applies much better to Der Fuhrer than to the robust Italian. Lawrence Fietcher in the title role does his relatively small job with all the proper arrogance.
Tom Powers does a splendidly subdued, Brutus, and the painful deliberation that characterizes the here is acted to perfection. Indicative of his disinteredness and his freedom from fanaticism, he is kept in civilian dress, whereas most of the conspirators are in uniform. This is one of the skillful touches of presentation.
Herbert Ranson is duly overbearing as lean and hungry Cassias, and Morgan Farley in faultless as Casea, the mean, little conspirator, most envious of the man he helps to destroy. Vincent Donebus plays the part of Cinna the Poet, and amply justifies the expansion of his part. One of the strongest scenes in the present production is that in which he is carried off by the savage mob, futilely explaining that he is Cinna the Poet, not Cinna the Conspirator.