Julius Caesar, Chicago Shakespeare Theater. The fault with director Barbara Gaines’s disappointing modern-dress rendition of Shakespeare’s play is not in her stars. She’s assembled some of Chicago’s most reliable actors for the Bard’s tale of political intrigue and civil war. But having put such notables as Kevin Gudahl, Scott Jaeck, Scott Parkinson, Guy Adkins, Linda Kimbrough, Ronald Keaton, James Harms, Aaron Todd Douglas, David Lively, Jim Slonina, and Steve Pickering on her elegant thrust stage, Gaines seems to have cut them adrift, giving the production no strong dramatic arc.

The show’s intended focus appears to be the friendship between conspirators Brutus and Cassius, but whatever power their relationship has here seems more by default than design. Parkinson is brilliant as manipulative, high-strung Cassius; his sense of Shakespeare’s poetry–that fabulous alliteration and internal rhyme–beautifully supports the text’s psychological insights. But the usually superb Gudahl as Brutus seems aimless and confused, forcing Parkinson to act at rather than with him. Jaeck’s Antony is just plain boring; the crowd response to his famed funeral oration is more exciting than the speech itself.

James Noone’s sleek set, evocatively lit by Kevin Adams, features a walkway that seems to recede into a black hole and an overhead screen for projection designer John Boesche’s images of clouds, stars, and moon; the earth is seen from a military satellite. These give viewers something to watch when we lose interest in what’s happening onstage–as is all too often the case.