20 June 2008

Mischief, thou art afoot.

Caught Julius Caesar at the Shakespeare Theatre last night. What a rip-off. The guy, Caesar, gets killed before intermission.

The performance is good but not great...it somehow lacked the gravitas of its theme -- I wasn't sold by either Brutus or Marc Antony's speeches after the death of Caesar, although overall Brutus -- played by Tom Hammond -- is great. In fact, since Brutus is basically the star of the show, Hammond's part is crucial, and he carries it well.

As always, the set design is inventive but not fussy, even if the set did cause Andrew Long, the original Marc Antony, to, um, break a leg for real. OK, so he just ruptured the achilles tendon, but it's enough to cause the Post to speculate on a "curse on Harmon Hall."

Having not really paid much attention to Julius Caesar since high school, I was struck by how much this play says about the fickleness and violence of the mob -- or as we might say these days, the common man. John Steinbeck had a theory about mass actions, and he explored it in such works as In Dubious Battle, a strike novel set in California's apple orchards. He called it the "Phalanx," and his interest was in figuring out how individual wills and intentions become subsumed to a group-consciousness.

Marc Antony's speech "to bury Caesar, not to praise him" incites the very masses who only a few moments ago were praising Brutus to now seek his death, and it's clear that Antony understands that power lies not in the Senate but in the street, as he declares, "Mischief, thou art afoot. Take thou what course you wilt!" Even further, Antony realizes that once loosed, the public wrath is not under anyone's control, and the mindless beating of Cinna the Poet only reinforces the unguided savagery, in the wake of which Octavius, Antony, and Lepidus seize power.

And poor Brutus, the "noblest man in Rome," who turns against his friend in the name of the state, learns all too late that the cause of the country -- "pro patria" -- is not a site of universal agreement, but rather an empty signifier that everyone claims.

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