Julius Caesar

The Royal Shakespeare Company at the Park Avenue Armory on Sunday, August 7, as part of the Lincoln Center Festival.

All the best parts of Julius Caesar happen before intermission, which generally falls after Mark Antony's rabble-rousing public address. The conspiracy, the assassination, the dueling eulogies—that's all over and done with, leaving only the frenzied descriptions of off-stage battles and the inevitable suicides. It is, I suppose, a tribute to director Lucy Bailey that the Royal Shakespeare Company's production of the play retains some energy through what sometimes feels like a very extended denouement. I can never muster much sympathy for Brutus, but this time I at least felt some of the drama.

As You Like It

The Royal Shakespeare Company at the Park Avenue Armory on Saturday, August 6, as part of the Lincoln Center Festival.

Shakespeare's go-to plot device of women passing themselves off as men always requires some suspension of disbelief, but As You Like It, which features the strangest example of the ruse, requires more suspension than most. Not only does Orlando, who met and became infatuated with Rosalind when she was a lady of the court, not recognize her when she's presenting herself as a boy named Ganymede, he also accepts Ganymede's eccentric suggestion that he woo Ganymede as if the boy were Rosalind to prove his love for her. To be fair, Orlando is supposed to be naïve and uneducated (that is, in fact, why Rosalind is interested in correcting some of his sillier ideas about love under her guise as Ganymede), but honestly, is he blind too?

Of course this is a comedy, not naturalistic drama, and the Royal Shakespeare Company makes Rosalind's subterfuge—and by extension her relationship with Orlando—more compelling than in any other production I've seen. The performances are lovely, for starters, but beyond that, the production as a whole creates a magical, increasingly optimistic mood—like sunlight slowly breaking through clouds. Under that spell, accepting the absurd premise doesn't seem so hard, and besides, it's worth the leap.

Romeo and Juliet

The Royal Shakespeare Company at the Park Avenue Armory on Friday, August 5, as part of the Lincoln Center Festival.

Romeo and Juliet can be a dreamy, romantic play, but it doesn’t have to be. That is, in fact, one of the things that makes the play so fascinating, so rewatchable: the lovers, their relationship, and the world around them shifts with every actor, every director.

Personally, I like a coolly clear-eyed interpretation, never glorifying the lovestruck teenagers for their heedlessness, perhaps going so far as to subvert the very idea of “love at first sight,” but even I found director Rupert Goold’s Romeo and Juliet a bit harsh: still tragic but also deeply cynical, in a way that undermines the drama of the play. I enjoyed the production immensely, and the staging was spectacular, but his star-crossed lovers didn’t capture my imagination the way others have.

Captain America: The First Avenger

In theaters.

Countless action movies feature villains more interesting and compelling than their heroes, and frankly, that’s what I expected from Captain America: The First Avenger. I assumed Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America, would be a humorless, goody-goody straight-arrow fighting a nefarious but amusingly snarky bad guy of some sort. I was wrong. Yes, Steve is an upstanding square, but he’s got more charm than I expected, and even if he’s not the jokey type, he seems to appreciate jokes, which keeps him from becoming annoyingly starchy and prim. In this movie, the annoying starchiness is left to the villain: Johann Schmidt, a.k.a. Red Skull, who is almost completely lacking in character motivation besides the basic fact that he is Evil with a capital E.

The truly vibrant color, though, belongs not to Steve or Red Skull but to the supporting players: the affable, insightful mad-scientist-to-the-good-guys Dr. Erskine; the gruff, blunt military man Col. Phillips; and the brilliant, smooth-talking industrialist Howard Stark. Those are the fun characters and—together with the not-as-dull-as-he-could-have-been Steve and Joe Johnston’s surprisingly brisk, forward-pushing direction—they make Captain America a passably entertaining summer blockbuster.