Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Julius Caesar Meets Fox News

In early June, William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar at the Delacorte Theater (The Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park) was fun but imperfect, although not for any of the reasons Fox News and their followers thought.  It is always a political play, of course. Theatre companies of the past four centuries have used it to do theatre’s job of holding that mirror up to “nature,” reflecting whatever the current leadership, in any country, was doing.  The play did its job of throwing a spotlight on the ambition of the current power base and its adherents.  This time the right wing was terribly upset by a production that showed an actor resembling Donald Trump as Julius Caesar, the deliciously slimy Gregg Henry keeping the production's promisesThose very same right-wing pundits were not at all bothered, in fact they were utterly silent, when the Guthrie cast an Obama lookalike as Julius Caesar a few years back.  I trust we can all judge the significance of that.
Tina Benko and Gregg Henry as Calpurnia and Julius Caesar onstage at the Delacorte.  (Photo Credit:  Joan Marcus)
For those who do not know, back in 44 B.C.E., Julius Caesar was stabbed in the Roman Senate house.  That’s history.  In Shakespeare’s play there are just a handful, perhaps two hands, of conspirators.  Really there were more like 60, but that’s too large a cast for most stages or theatre companies.  Shakespeare was no fool.

Fox News thought it highly significant that “everyone” who stabbed Caesar was a minority or a woman.  In fact, Brutus was played by a stalwart of the Public Theater (and now television), Corey Stoll, who is a white male.  Really their response just shows that the right wing does not read the classics or attend the theatre in NYC or anywhere else, where color-blind casting has been the norm for years.

Some aspects of Oscar Eustis’ production were sharp and funny, but some pushed the play a bit off course.  It’s all very well to cast the marvelous Tina Benko as Calpurnia with an oddly Melania-like accent and Elizabeth Marvell as Marc Antony, playing it as a cross between a southern politician and C.J. from The West Wing.  Most of the performances were highly effective.
Elizabeth Marvell as Marc Antony at the Delacorte.  (Photo Credit: Joan Marcus)

However, the war in Rome after Caesar’s assassination was not between hippies and storm troopers, but a civil war between relative equals. Cinna the Poet was murdered by an ignorant and easily manipulated mob, not by state police. Veering off-book in the second half struck the wrong note after the humor of Gregg Henry’s characterization of Julius Caesar.  Sometimes it’s not about taste, but about logic. Just telling Shakespeare’s story of Julius Caesar is quite significant enough.

~ Molly Matera, signing off until the next remembered evening of theatre....

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