1: causing physical or mental discomfort
2: not easy
3: marked by lack of ease
4: apprehensive, worried
6: precarious, unstable
We should be so lucky.
I’ve been working on prep for our upcoming production of Julius Caesar. To be honest, it’s not my first choice. At first glance it felt too on the nose, given our current political climate. Many companies have been producing this seminal work of avarice, hubris, and politics, linking Caesar to a certain unpopular leader of today. One production I know of, and for certain not the only one, even went so far as to print signs and sell hats at the gift shop which read “Make Rome Great Again”. And then, of course, there is the much talked about uproar over The Public Theatre’s production at The Delecorte Theater in Central Park this summer, directed by a man I very much admire, Oscar Eustis. I would never claim to understand or know why he and his production team would choose to align Caesar so closely with our current president. However, I suspect that Mr. Eustis got the exact reaction he was looking for, because, you see, he and I are both subversive activists and agitators, sometimes more overt than others, but I digress. But, no matter how much I love stirring up people and inspiring them to protest a live theatre production, being outraged by a piece of art that was written over four hundred years ago, there is a problem with aligning these two political leaders. They don’t fit well.
When you try to put a round peg in a square hole, something always feels off. From the outside view these two men, one fictional and the other a once real leader of Rome (see what I did there?), seem to fit perfectly. They are two strong headed men who, from outward appearance, would seem to have no hesitation or second thoughts of any kind. They seem to be men who speak as if their words are all that matters and that after they speak the world should accept their account as “truth”. But, when you start to look closer at these two men, there is one thing that makes the gap between them a little too far to stride. This quality is pointed out by Caesar himself only moments before his death:
“I could be well moved if I were as you.If I could pray to move, prayers would move me.But I am constant as the northern star,Of whose true-fixed and resting qualityThere is no fellow in the firmament.”
“Constant” is never a word you could use for our current president. “Persistent”, maybe, but “constant”? Anything but.
Say what you will about his hubris, but Caesar is a man that sticks to his word, even if there is a fear or threat. There is a surety and a grounded quality about Caesar which no one would ever correlate with our president. In fact, even in the face of death Caesar says:
“It seems to me most strange that men should fear,Seeing that death, a necessary end,Will come when it will come.”
Maybe that seems as extreme a thing our current president might say, but we’ve all seen him flinch and cower, literally and figuratively, over the last several months. He says one thing, and then does the opposite. He is as INCONSISTENT as they come.
It’s also important to note that Caesar was BELOVED by the public, and the MAJORITY of the public, at that. It’s his fellow politicians who don’t trust his intentions and feel that an action must be taken in order to preserve the republic. At it’s core it’s a virtuous idea to protect law, order, and the principals of democracy. But, to go around the law and violently remove Caesar proves to be the worst course of action and throws Rome into civil war. Arguably, their actions do more damage to Rome than if Caesar had actually become a King. There is a plurality to the play which is the key thing that is lost when trying to produce a cut and dry or black and white production.
The larger and more important point which William Shakespeare’s play is trying to make is that it’s not a play in which the “bad guy” gets what’s coming to him and then everyone else is released from tyranny. The play that Shakespeare has given us shows each character in a myriad of lights. We see Caesar’s hubris, but we also see his wisdom and strength as a loving friend and husband. I have no doubt that The Public Theatre’s production was meant to underline this larger point. What a clear message to send a liberal audience, “Hey, as much as you might want it to happen… maybe it’s best we don’t”. The problem is that the backlash focused too much on the flawed interpretation of Caesar. Maybe the production team did as well.
So, as we approach rehearsals, I keep reminding myself and the team that this play is bigger than now. It’s bigger than us and it’s certainly bigger than our current president. It’s a play about friendship, loyalty, love, commitment, and the consequences of our actions, for better or for worse. And, yes, it’s also about two political parties at odds with one another after years of animosity feeding the fire. It’s a nuanced play that deserves a nuanced production which I’m excited and terrified to begin work on and ultimately sharing with our audiences.
Does Caesar have any “unease” to wear the crown? His only hesitance comes out of respect for his wife, which he quickly reverses with very little coaxing. In the end, it wasn’t the assassins that ended Caesar’s reign. It was his ego and lack of unease which made him blind to his own pitfalls in spite of his strengths.
We should be so lucky.