Review: William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar: The Death of a Dictator, adapted by Orson Welles and The Gangbusters Theatre Company
Of course I went to see Julius Caesar. Julius Caesar is one of my very favorite historical figures, and I like Shakespeare too. Oh, I had an excellent time.
To begin with, there was complimentary wine. As I have said, this gives so many points. Wine and theatre are a holy combination and more should recognize this. I gave thanks and said my blessing for the wine, being very grateful to Dionysos and the Universe for having provided it to me. Later, it of course offered a good means by which to socialize with the actors and crew and so forth.
I read a review earlier which said it thought “The production foolishly substitutes emotion with blood. The emotionally wrought betrayal of Caesar is lost to fantastical gore effects. The raw breakdown of Brutus is replaced with yelling and knife wounds. The production’s strongest players (much to the offense of Shakespeare) were the women.” Strange confusing sexist remark aside, I disagree entirely. Also, where were these fantastical gore effects I was promised? It’s not like there were buckets of blood and entrails being thrown about. There was about as much blood- perhaps even less- than was appropriate. I would not have minded more blood. I mean, when someone is stabbed twenty-three times, do you expect there to be no blood? Do you expect there to be no yelling and knife wounds? Do you expect Brutus to talk it out with his dying maybe-father like he would with a therapist on a sanitized couch? And when conspirators have retreated from battle, do you expect them to look as if they had come from the spa? The review also said “attempts to update the piece further with a Metallica soundtrack and a score by composer Bone Douglas were both distracting and ill-fitting.” Again, I completely disagree. Again, I could have used more Metallica! Why, it pretty much only occurred during scene changes. I thought it fit beautifully with the tone of the piece. It helped me delve so much further into the mood, and improved the play by leaps and bounds as far as I am concerned. It excited great emotions within my body; I was not distracted, but inserted. Honestly, I wish plays were modernized more often in this fashion. It is far more relevant to the youth of today. And I’m pretty sure the old ladies behind me in the second row liked it too.
I enjoyed that the actors kept a good pace with the show. That is hard to do in any play, much less Shakespeare. Even though I should say I have a better understanding of English than many, since it’s fucking Shakespeare there were a few lines I just didn’t understand when they flew by me. But at least it sounded more like the rhythm of a song when escaping the mouths of the actors rather than the drawn-out pretentiousness of an actor pretending he feels what his character is feeling when he really doesn’t. I saw none of that latter nonsense.
I enjoyed the casting choices- the cast was all talented each in their own way, and they were all young and fit and attractive, suitable for violent choreography, but they were diverse in appearance otherwise. Unlike those productions in which people such as HBO tend to cast a bunch of old white British guys in the roles of senators, I enjoyed seeing for the first time in my life Caesar and Cassius as beautiful, strong, dark-skinned black men. It lends another feeling entirely to hear the deepness of such voices, too.
I enjoyed Antony’s speech very much. To watch as the carouser found his friend dead, wept, cursed Rome, and then to see as he manipulated the crowd against the conspirators satisfied unseen parts of my being. I could feel the effect like a wave, the wave that must have swept over Rome long long ago. And I could see this effect in the actor- when he finished, it looked as though he had just culminated sexually or been stimulated and then drained by a powerful black magic spell- he had certainly accomplished something great, something a human being does not often do.
I also so very much enjoyed the lighting. It was the best lighting I’ve seen in the Fringe. It fit the play so well. The lights were startling beams of white in a dark black sea. There was more dark than light through the entire piece, it seemed. Paired along with the excellent choices in music, it was like a creepy dream, fitting well all the mentions of the omens indicating Caesar’s death. It fit well the furtive arranging of conspiracy, the horrid murder, the curse of Antony, and the pitiful flight and defeat of the conspirators unto suicide. It kept the darkness close around us like a shroud, like a dark mother of night whom we know and who knows us intimately, and who will come to know us more upon our own deaths, keeping her close and present with the audience and not just separated, not just for characters of long ago.
Indeed, though these people lived thousands of years ago, they still felt present. As I watched I was reminded of former trance states when I had begged to be returned to “reality”. I thought of the reality of watching a play- surely I was grateful to have been returned to reality so that I could watch the drama unfolded by actors before me. I thought to remember this should I ever again experience a bad trip. Surely it would comfort me? We humans love to watch drama unfold, we love to watch the story arc, the characters, and the climax of conflict. Yet, in order for this to exist… we need humans with drama. These were real people to whom this really happened. I thought of this as I watched the actors display the poor souls before me. That these humans should have experienced all this, that which entertains me for a night, is awesome in the sense that the magnificence of a star, the size of which we cannot imagine, is awesome.
I recommend this play to anyone who likes Shakespeare and honest violence; honest exploration of the dark side of humanity.