Monday, September 05, 2011

Chasing Julius Caesar

I really persevered to get into the Shakespeare Free For All this year. I didn't make it until the last day and the website was so bogged down, that pages wouldn't load so I could enter the online lottery for tickets. I called to register for the lottery via phone, but I wasn't selected. I kinda gave up, but when I check Facebook on my phone after church, I saw that on their Facebook page the theater was telling people to show up for "standby" passes.

Instead of being in line for hours ahead of the regular giveaway, I got a standby pass, sat down for 1/2 an hour and then got in line to see if I'd make it into the show. I thought of calling it a day because 73 seemed like a high number. I heard a man who was 102 on his cell phone talking about how confident he was that he'd get in and I told myself it'd be better to wait.
So I made it in and I'm glad I waited. I'd never seen Julius Caesar (though I think I read it in high school) and since I really like Shakespeare's comedies and tragedies, a free performance was a great way to test out a historical play. Here is what stood out for me:

-->The rhythm of the speech when Cassius tells Brutus that the there is no reason why the name of Caesar should be "sounded" more than Brutus (Act 1, Scene 2) reminded me of the "a rose by any other name"speech in Romeo and Juliet. They are talking about very different things of course, but the questioning nature of it made me think of Juliet.

-->The audience laughed when Caska said "it was Greek to me" and I wondered if audiences in Shakespeare's day would have had the same reaction. The line wasn't really played for laughs, but the recognition of that phrase was amusing in a way that other familiar phrases ("dogs of war" "Friends, Romans, Countrymen) were not.

-->The idea Brutus has for the conspirators to run out into the streets with bloody hands and daggers and crying "Peace! Liberty! Freedom!" to allay any fears the people might have after Caesar is assassinated (Act 3 Scene 1) seemed appalling to me…but then I thought of modern political maneuvers that fit into that mold. It is more graphic to run in the streets with blood on your hands but washing your hands first before you cry peace doesn't make it better.

-->Speaking of blood…this production was very bloody, but that is the point of the story. Seeing murder onstage and knowing they are using fake blood capsules doesn't make it less unsettling. People all around (including me at times) were on the edge of their seats.

-->The "Friends, Romans" phrase and "Et tu, Brute" are the parts of the play that I hear most often in popular culture so I was caught unaware by the masterful manipulation of Mark Antony. The woman next to me and I discussed it at intermission. He was cold.

-->Mark Antony's speech and the way he had the people on puppet strings, plus tragedy that befell a man in the wrong place at the wrong time who had the same name as one of the conspirators made me think about Brutus speech about "a tide in the affairs of men."

Full of hubris, Caesar got killed, but he overshadowed Rome and its people for years to come. He isn't even alive past intermission in the play and he has been long gone, but we still talk about him because he worked to ensure that his legacy would live on.

-->With all the blood and political intrigue, I'm surprised Julius Caesar is not modernized more often. The production I saw was quite riveting.

On a lighter note, Caska was played by Geoffrey Owens, who also played Elvin on The Cosby Show. And before now, I'd only seen bits of Julius Caesar acted out on The Cosby Show.

Theo and Cockroach rap version of Mark Antony's speech

Visiting professors and Grandpa Huxtable recite passages of Julius Caesar for the family

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