The man of the moment
Joseph Papp founded The Public Theatre in 1954, along with The Shakespeare workshop, accessible and free to all New Yorkers. Around the same time The Public Theater began staging productions at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park. This is a cherished longstanding summer tradition, appreciated by native New Yorkers and visitors alike. The performances are still free with either electronic or in person lineup lottery, the day of the performance.
I played the electronic lottery, as I do all through the summer, and this year, chance granted me a couple of free tickets.
As my luck would have it, there was a steady rain drizzle all through the first and well into the second act of my evening to see the play. New Yorkers call this kind of weather “Spritzing”. I am not sure if they are in some way referring to the bubbly watered down glass of wine, “a Spritzer” or a hose left on sprinkle, whatever it was, it wasn’t comfortable…. However, regardless of the weather, the theatre quickly filled with eager Shakespeare buffs, dressed in full rain gear and equipped with stadium seat cushions. No matter the weather, the show must go on!
Before I begin, you should know that this production of Julius Caesar is not, in any way conventional.To refresh your Elizabethan memories, the plot is about a small group of Caesar’s entourage, who, feeling at odds with their leader, see themselves headed towards dictatorship. They plot his murder in the name of preserving Democracy and it all turns sour…
In director Oskar Eustis’s version of this Shakespearean tragedy, the players are in contemporary dress with a Julius Caesar sporting an all too familiar blond comb-over,long navy coat all while delivering his lines with bravado and gesticulations much like “you-know –who”. His wife, the lovely Calpurnia, struts the stage looking svelte and chic. Her first line, delivered with a Slavic lilt, brought the house down. But make no mistake! Calpurnia is not the kind of woman to walk in her husband’s shadow. In a notable scene she seduces her cigar-smoking husband in a steaming bathtub. As he is summoned to the Senate, he exits butt naked, leaving her to ponder his fate in the tub. At times I wondered if there was a fair amount of Ad Lib but to quote Director Oskar Eustis: “ And in case you were wondering, we didn’t write any new lines, it’s all Shakespeare.I found it hard to believe, as with the characters, especially Marc Antony played by a woman. (Friends, Romans, Countrywomen)? But it worked, partly due to actress Elizabeth Marvel’s insightful interpretation of the role.The great battle scenes were staged as violent protests, complete with gunfire, smoke, explosives and ammunition that had cast members running up and down the aisles. There were even a few “stage-verité” bolts of theatrical thunder, in tandem with the weather. No raccoons wandered on stage as they sometimes are given to doing. After all, this is in the middle of Central Park and animals do wander!
The stage design was enhanced by two towering arches, made useful for actors’ multiple appearances and as looming structures bathed in creative light changes. It is worth the effort to see one of these great productions. There are always fine performances and stellar players, even if I found the staging to be, at times confusing. I would say it was a memorable evening and well worth being uncomfortably wet for most of the time. I love Shakespeare and I found Oskar Eustis’s very creative production to be a close reference of today’s political climate. Whether you agree or not, the artistic license he used worked very well.
A great cast, with a notable lineup including:
Gregg Henry in the title role, Julius Caesar
Corey Stoll (also from House of Cards) as Brutus,
John Douglas Thompson as Cassius
Tina Benko as Calpurnia
Niki M. James as Portia
Elizabeth Marvel as Marc Antony (of Homeland and House of Cards)