Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Julius Caesar in Central Park: Willie S. Says, “Assassination Doesn’t Work”

I shared my travails in getting tickets to Shakespeare in the Park's production of Julius Caesar (The Hunt for Tiks to Julius Caesar, NAACP Debate on Charter Moratorium, Puerto Rico FMPR Teachers. Here is my in depth review, which I sent in to The Wave.

Julius Caesar in Central Park: Willie S. Says, “Assassination Doesn’t Work”
By Norm Scott

“Democracy—Not Donald Trump—Dies Brutally in ‘Julius Caesar,’ Just as Shakespeare Intended” proclaimed The Daily Beast, referring to the recent and controversial production in Central Park which closed a short run on June 17. Also pointed out was this important point: “The production’s detractors had not realized that a Caesar, dressed as Barack Obama, had also been killed in a production five years ago. Caesar is a figure of power, and different productions in different eras configure him as the leader-figure of that moment.” Where wuz u who doth be outraged this time? Ahhh, the relevance of Shakespeare over 400 years after he wrote the play.

I studied the play in the 10th grade at Thomas Jefferson HS in Brooklyn. Our teacher, Miss Port, took us to see the movie starring Marlon Brando as Marc Antony. The movie wowed me, especially Brando’s funeral oration (“I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.”)

I spent half a day last Thursday racing around the city in an attempt to get tickets to the Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park production. Chances were slim, as I found out when I arrived at the senior citizen line at 8:15 AM, where there were already about 70 people in front of me and was told by others on line near me, “No chance. You have to be at least by that tree to have a shot.” It turned out that even that tree was too far away. The Public Theater crew informed us of the bad news around 10 AM, that at most 40 people would get tickets. But there would be a last chance lottery at the Public Theater at noon, so I headed over there, only to find a very long line. But they took everyone who got there before noon and with hundreds of people packed in waiting breathlessly for the 20 or so numbers to be called, mine came up. Yes, you may rub me for luck the next time you see me.

Now let’s get down to business over the production’s use of a Trump-like figure as Caesar with a model-like wife with an Eastern European accent. Maybe this was a bit too obvious, as people would have gotten the point anyway, but it was sure a hell of a lot of fun to watch the caricatures – until the assassination, that is.

Was the production glorifying the assassination of Caesar/Trump? Though modernized (there’s a no toga zone), it stays true to Shakespeare’s point: that engaging in an act of assassination leads to much worse outcomes than the ills the conspirators thought they were solving – and in fact this has proven true throughout history. Shakespeare wrote the play in 1599 just as decades of reign by an aging Queen Elizabeth were coming to an end, with rumors swirling of conspiracies to remove her from the throne, even by dint of assassination. Shakespeare couldn’t get a contemporary play past the censors, so he resorted to using history to make his points, even though he plays his hand cagily, seeking to avoid being drawn and quartered by the authorities, by refusing to come down on the side of rebellion, no matter how bad the rulers were, because the outcome would be so much worse.

As a man, Caesar had little in common with Trump. Caesar was an accomplished general, politician and a brilliant writer, and also had an affair with Cleopatra, things Trump may try to claim – just don’t tell him Cleopatra is no longer with us. They do have in common a high degree of vanity, elements of narcissism and certainly an authoritarian bent and a willingness to twist facts.

This production, and Shakespeare, do not make Caesar/Trump a hero and engage in some spoofing of their egos. But the conspirators who claim they need to kill Caesar to save Rome don’t come off much better. Cassius, of lean and hungry look, though passionate, is manipulating and vicious. Caesar favorite Brutus, who comes off as naïve but necessary for the plot to succeed, is recruited to the cause and when he puts the final dagger into Caesar as he comes staggering to Brutus, whom he looked at as a son, the famous line, “the unkindest cut of all” is appropriate as Caesar falls to his death. This was possibly the most consequential assassination in history as the direct outcome was 400 years of the Roman Empire.

Shakespeare mocks “the people” who shift from anti-Caesar to pro Caesar based on who spoke to them last – in this case, Brutus’ fatal decision to let Marc Antony have the last word. And oh what words they were, especially since “he” was played brilliantly by a woman (House of Card’s Elizabeth Marvel). No, Shakespeare does not seem to be a fan of democracy.

The production pits the defenders of Caesar as a police state. They are led by Marc Antony and Octavian, Caesar’s nephew and adopted son, who is portrayed as a snot-nosed, cold-blooded and arrogant kid. Take a look at the recent video of Jared Kushner and there is an eerie resemblance.

Supporters of the plotters wear “resist” arm bands and shout “this is what democracy looks like” and “the people united will never be defeated,” the latter as the police state kills them all, thus defeating the people united and ending up with the real final cut of all – the end of the Roman Republic and Octavian, who defeats his rivals and establishes the Roman Empire with himself as the Emperor Augustus. The closing vision of future emperor Octavian staring at the audience cold-faced (Kushner again) over a stage loaded with the dead bodies of the resisters, makes the message clear: democracy is no better off when people resort to assassination of a leader, no matter how dangerous and unpopular (though I would question that when it came to Hitler and maybe a few other monsters.)

Though I am a fierce opponent of Donald Trump (and the Republican agenda) I classify attempts to impeach Trump based on flimsy evidence as political assassination that would lead to worse things, just as the ridiculous Republican impeachment of Bill Clinton led us to George Bush and the catastrophes visited upon us as a result of his presidency – and yes, you Obama bashers, the Bush years were worse and the Trump years will escalate things in the direction of the ultimate demise of whatever democracy we think we have, with a widening income gap that will open the populace to demagoguery - from the left and the right.

Norm resists, mostly requests to do chores from his wife, every day at ednotesonline.com

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