New York Post



Delacorte Theater in Central Park 

(enter the park at 81st Street and Central Park West or 79th Street and Fifth Avenue). 

‘JULIUS Caesar" is a violent play about power and personality that Shakespeare wrote during his own bloody era. 

Any contemporary production must find a way to make it feel relevant and preserve its weird, archaic dignity. 

Barry Edelstein makes the drama live and thrill in his production at Central Park's Delacorte Theater. 

He has set it in a generically forbidding context - part Moammar Khadafy, part Ayatollah Khomeini, part Mussolini - and has concentrated on the way men  behave in such an incendiary world. 

Scenarist Narelle Sissons and costumer Angela Wendt send us to an Arab-looking world where the structure is Roman. 

Edelstein supplies a howling seer who'll pop up throughout, keeping an eye on things; a crowd scrawling graffiti such as "Veni, Vidi, Vici" ("I came, I  saw, I conquered") and "Alea Jacta Est" ("The dice have been thrown"); a  great gilded head of Caesar lording it over the stage; and a musician, Bill Ruyle, visible on stage left, making noises of chaos. 

In this weird world, we see those who object to the concentration of power in Caesar and not themselves. 

Cassius, sarcastically played by Dennis Boutsikaris, is in black, mocking that giant head of Caesar. 

Brutus is in white, a tormented man who loved Caesar but hates what Caesar has become. The problem with Brutus is to make all that anguish and hesitation exciting, and Jamey Sheridan's manly struggles are the heart of the play. 

Sheridan is superb as the reluctant assassin and, later, the doomed warrior. He's a man with the spirit of a Henry V but the fate of a Hamlet. 

Also allied with them is Caska - spelled oddly with a "k" - carrying a flask and played with a drawlingly effeminate pout by Ritchie Coster, hands in 
pockets. It works, and gives a perky twist to this conspirator. 

On the other side is Caesar, played interestingly by David McCallum in a gorgeous red train as a waddling, nasty epileptic. It is Brutus who stops a fit of Caesar's and who later, in a grotesque echo of that act, stabs Caesar with love and sadness. 

Caesar's favorite is, of course, Marc Antony, whom Jeffrey Wright turns into a power-hungry, shirtless man. He plays the funeral speech as fairly sincere  and Antony as avid of military glory. 

The later play, a clash between thugs, is brilliantly stylized as the macho, not cerebral Antony and the cold adolescent Octavius (a chillingly excellent Sean McNall) confront the nervous, tantrum-prone Cassius and the noble, clear Brutus. 

The stage is bare as a haunted Brutus slays himself, saying to the ghost of Caesar, "I killed not thee with half so good a will." The soothsayer ululates. 

Edelstein has succeeded, for all the decor works in the service of a vision of the play. It convincingly shows a brutal, savage world that traps and destroys a fundamentally honest man, Brutus. 

Free tickets are distributed daily starting at l p.m. at the Delacorte, and from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Public Theater, 425 Lafayette St. Tuesdays through Sundays at 8 p.m., through Sept. 3.