A Wright Fine 'Caesar' 

Daily News Staff Writer 

JULIUS CAESAR. By William Shakespeare. With David McCallum, Jeffrey Wright, Jamey Sheridan, Dennis Boutsikaris. Directed by Barry Edelstein. Sets by  Narelle Sissons. Costumes by Angela Wendt. Lighting by Don Holder. Tickets  free. Presented by The Public Theater at Delacorte Theater in Central Park  (at Central Park West and 81st St.) Ends Sept. 3. (212) 539-8750.

If only Al Gore had Mark Antony to write his speeches, he might not be struggling as much in the polls.

In "Julius Caesar," The Public Theater's final New York Shakespeare Festival production of the summer, Jeffrey Wright gives a forceful performance as Mark Antony, Caesar's loyal friend and avenger.

Jamey Sheridan's Brutus holds court in a long, but absorbing 'Juilus Caesar' production in Central Park. Wright a Tony winner whose film career is sizzling after his star-making turn as a Dominican drug lord in "Shaft" is just a small part of a solid cast that includes David McCallum as Caesar, Jamey Sheridan as the traitorous Brutus and Dennis Boutsikaris as the conniving Cassius.

But Wright shows he's got the stuff during Antony's famed "Friends, Romans, countrymen" speech to the masses, after Caesar is assassinated by his inner circle. 

All swagger and brooding anger, dressed in a chest-baring shirt stained with Caesar's blood, Wright denounces the killers with the fierce intensity of an evangelical preacher.

Performed outdoors at Delacorte Theater, this version of Shakespeare's drama about the political evil that men did in ancient Rome has a decidedly post-apocalyptic, sci-fi look.

The action is set against plain stone walls complete with graffiti and utilizes cranes and hydraulic lifts. In lieu of togas, the cast is outfitted in futuristic paramilitary garb and Biblical gowns. A lone percussionist sets an ominous tone with haunting sound effects. 

It's still Shakespeare as you like it, though, in his original dialogue. A buzz-cut Sheridan, Aryan-like in a spiffy black uniform and jackboots, is a commanding presence as the anguished Brutus, and Boutsikaris looks like he's having fun playing a master manipulator. 

With his Caesar 'do and air of gravity, McCallum makes for a convincing emperor, even if his Caesar comes off as an indecisive politician rather than  the popular military hero of history.

But as the soothsayer might say, "Beware the length of this show." The first act alone runs nearly two hours, seemingly longer than it took the Romans to conquer Europe.

Original Publication Date: 8/22/00