Yesterday, I wrote about the ignorant idiots of the right and the left, when it comes to the humanities, Shakespeare, and a controversial version of Julius Caesar, delving more into the history behind the subject. Good Shakespeare, like good opera should leave the viewer stunned, in a trance, almost silent. You are disoriented, having spent the past few hours in an alternative universe. It has nothing to do with the actual production, but the acting and the individual operatic artists. If a director has the right cast they don’t even need a set, just some stools, and let them wear jeans and t-shirts. Some of the finest Shakespeare I’ve seen was done that way. Of course, in order for a person to enjoy the production, they must understand the play, the language, or the opera.
Unfortunately, when this occurs, the director must subvert him/herself. Due to the current trend of directors usurping the production, and making it about them, this is we end up with truly reprehensible depictions of the world as they want to force their entrapped audience into seeing it. Good theater, like good opera, is about the actor, the voice, not the director, nor the production and certainly not the director.
I am not a fan of modern productions of things which should best be kept where the author intended. One of the few exceptions I will allow is La Traviata, which has an new life thanks to AIDS, HIV, and the current problems with TB. The Met’s most recent version of Trovatore, taking place during the war in Peninsula instead of the Renaissance, is superior. I think the new version of Rigoletto is disgusting. Then again, I am a total bitch when it comes to costumes and accuracy on stage and in the movies. I once spent the entire evening of a truly bad version of Aida (one of the Met’s older productions, now fortunately dead as a doornail) making a list of everything wrong with it.
Oskar Eustis is an insider’s theater director. He’s terribly important, and thinks a lot of himself. He is also a big-time liberal. This production of unknowns is just that – unknown. The director is of paramount import and – don’t forget it.
“…Tina Benko as Calpurnia, Teagle F. Bougere as Casca, Yusef Bulos as Cinna the Poet, Eisa Davis as Decius Brutus, Robert Gilbert as Octavius, Gregg Henry as Caesar, Edward James Hyland as Lepidus, Popilius, Nikki M. James as Portia, Christopher Livingston as Titinius, Cinna, Elizabeth Marvel as Antony, Chris Myers as Flavius, Messala, and Ligarius, Marjan Neshat as Metullus Cimber, Corey Stoll as Marcus Brutus, John Douglas Thompson as Caius Cassius, Natalie Woolams-Torres as Marullus, Isabel Arraiza as Publius Clitus, and Erick Betancourt, Mayaa Boateng as Soothsayer, Motell Foster as Trebonius, and Dash King, Tyler La Marr as Lucillius, Gideon McCarty; Nick Selting as Lucius and Strato, Alexander Shaw as Octavius’ Servant, Michael Thatcher as Cobbler, and Justin Walker White as Pindarus….”
For the most part, critics have been split, but basically weren’t that impressed.
“…This heavy-handed, uncomfortable and unnecessary stroke of provocation on the part of Eustis (who rarely directs shows himself) turns what might have otherwise been a decent Shakespeare in the Park production into a jumbled mess. The uneasy mixture of parody and earnest tragedy creates an easy target for condemnation at a time when arts funding is already under siege.
With a design scheme that suggests modern-day Washington, D.C. — with its monuments, protesters and armored security forces — instead of ancient Rome, this Caesar (portrayed with broadness and bravado by Gregg Henry) incorporates Trump’s best-known mannerisms. Calpurnia (Tina Benko), Caesar’s wife, has a Slavic accent, not unlike Melania. A line of dialogue has even been edited to reflect a notorious comment from the campaign trail (“If Caesar had stabbed their mothers on Fifth Avenue, they would have done no less”).
If Eustis did not foresee that the Trump concept would be extremely problematic (especially after the photos of Kathy Griffin with Trump’s severed head met with mass denunciation), then his thinking was as shortsighted as Brutus in the play….”
I read most of the reviews. They were far from complementary. People in the audience were booing certain aspects of the production. Some were walking out. Critics were struggling to find something nice to say. If the right, conservatives, and the usual sources had shut up about it, and ignored the production, director Oskar Eustis would have had an uneven production on his hands. It might even have been considered a disaster. But, thanks to the right, he has a triumph.
There are times when productions are forced to close. Those are few and far between. The very fact of life is opera, theater, the play, literature will be able to get away with things that cannot happen in reality. Verdi wrote quite a bit of his work as social commentary. Wagner was weird. Shakespeare wrote to appease his sponsors and keep his head when those about him were easily losing theirs.
Here though, thanks to the hysteria of the right, Oskar Eustis, socialist, communist, and all-round liberal, is now celebrated. People need to know when to keep their big mouths shut. This was one of those times. The man had a mediocre production on his hands. It was close to being a failure. Now, thanks to idiots storming the stage, and protesting – way too much, he has a triumph. At times it pays to shut up already yet. This would have been one of those times.