Denzel Weathers Shakespearean Tragedy

04/04/2005 at 01:00 PM EDT

Denzel Weathers Shakespearean Tragedy
CHARLES SYKES/REX
Two-time Oscar winner Denzel Washington is the latest screen name to hit the Great White Way, having opened Sunday night in a new Broadway production of William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar.

Washington, 50, plays the ancient Roman emperor's assassin Brutus – and while the critics didn't exactly take out their knives in judging his performance, they didn't stand up and applaud, either.

Calling the "bumpy" production "regrettable," New York Times critic Ben Brantley writes, "Mr. Washington does not embarrass himself, as leading citizens of Hollywood have been known to do on Broadway." (Brantley was especially brutal when it came to reviewing Frasier star Kelsey Grammer's star turn in a short-lived Macbeth on Broadway a couple years ago.)

"But even brilliantined in the glow of his inescapable fame," Brantley adds about Washington, "he can't help getting lost amid the mismatched crowd and the heavy topical artillery that have been assembled here." The critic says the actor is at his strongest in the monologues.

In The Washington Post, under a headline "Caesar: Its Excellence Lies Not With Its Star," critic Peter Marks opines that Washington "has manly authority to spare. But apart from an occasional roar, this is one tame lion. The portrayal ... occupies too little emotional space."

New York Daily News critic Howard Kissel pretty much agrees with that assessment. "Washington has plenty of stage chops," he writes. "Maybe in the course of the run he will find more ways to use them."

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