Posts Tagged ‘Shakespeare’

Julius Caesar

November 4, 2017

I went and saw Chesapeake Shakespeare Theater’s production of Julius Caesar last week and it got me thinking. Most stories that Shakespeare wrote had heroes and villains. Even the histories painted certain characters as good and certain characters as bad. That is the way humans tend to divide things. We split up actions and people as Right or Wrong. Of course, we often overlook that people are more shades of gray but that is very complicated to think about. Anyway, here are some thoughts based on what I was thinking about. It is clumsy and mostly unresearched but here it is.


Julius Caesar

We know that Julius Caesar was a charismatic leader of the Roman Republic based on lines from the play. A big bit of evidence is that he is highly beloved by the people of the Roman Empire. Being beloved by the people does not necessarily mean that a politician is a good person. In fact, that is some of what Cassius warns against during Act 1. There is a danger in putting any human on a pedestal because you will almost always be eventually disappointed. People are not perfect and should not be treated as such. Praising people like Ronald Reagan or John F Kennedy tends to push their glaring faults and their transgressions into the shadows. We know that Caesar was starting to buy into his own hype and was highly susceptible to flattery. He could have ended a democratic system of government and named himself a King, not recognizing that people are less fallible than a person. It was only a matter of time before he let himself rise to take the crown.


Cassius

Cassius is a schemer and a sweet talker. Somebody who is well-spoken is somebody you really have to listen to closely to catch not only the words they are saying but all the words they are not saying. When you listen to Cassius, his cause does not seem so righteous. Yes, he agrees Brutus that Caesar must be stopped from ending the Republic. However, he spends a lot of time talking about how he and Brutus are just as good as Caesar. He seems more interested in tearing Caesar down than protecting the public from a monarchy. You have to watch for people who seek to tear people down rather than build things up. Caesar is right to fear him because he is a smart guy with a ruthless agenda. It is Cassius’ idea to kill Caesar and he would have absolutely supported murdering Mark Anthony too if Brutus had not put an end to that talk. Later, he is the first of the conspirators to take his own life when things start to turn against him. I can never trust somebody who is hungry for power but quick to run when the hard work or the punishment comes. He is a weasel and is all fair talk and very little substance.


Brutus

We are told that everybody regards Brutus as an honorable man. His love for Rome is so great that he is willing to sacrifice the life of his friend to keep the democracy running. While I view the sacrifice of Caesar as necessary, killing him was never the answer. When politicians are assassinated, they immediately become saints in the eyes of the public. Violence should absolutely be the last resort when it comes to solving a problem. And yet, the conspirators seem to jump right to it. Brutus goes from agonizing over the plan to taking control of it and leading it. He allows himself to be talked into something that never should have happened. There had to be some more political way to dismantle Caesar’s popularity. Brutus’ heart is in the right place. If you have a friend who is going to ruin everything, you do what it takes to stop that friend but there is such a thing as excessive force. The Romans saw that and they were able to use it as a weakness to use to drum up armies against the noble house of Brutus and the other conspirators.


Mark Antony

Mark Antony pretty much started the whole mess. If you look at Act I, it is Antony who publicly offers Caesar a crown. Antony sees the love that the public bears for Caesar and seizes on the opportunity to win points by offering Caesar a crown. He knew that Caesar would probably turn the crown down (which he did) but he probably already knew that it would put more bad ideas into Caesar’s head. This scene is an inciting incident that makes the conspirators desperate to get rid of Caesar, leading to them making the bad choice of murder. When the deed is done, Antony is distraught over the death of his meal ticket/friend but makes a deal with the conspirators to help them smooth things over. He immediately reneges on that deal and incites the crowds against the conspirators through expert emotional manipulation. We have seen lately what damage a populist movement can do. He latches onto Octavius (the future first emperor of the Roman Empire) and drives Octavius to fight to the finish, only accepting surrender when the conspirators were dead. His actions, waging a war against a criminal group to bring them to justice and to unite the country, may seem just at first. Just remember that this was all in support of installing a tyrant.


The People

Finally, we have the people who are also not blameless. As a citizenry in a representative, democratic government they have a hand in their fate. They are the ones who cheered Caesar for a military victory and cheered even more when he was offered the crown. They are shooting themselves in the foot by giving away any power they had in the first place. They are complicit in the political tension which eventually gives birth to the death of Caesar (and indirectly the subjugation of the people under the Roman Empire). The people have few thoughts of their own. When Brutus speaks after the assassination, they almost instantly forgive him because of his eloquence, earnestness, and reputation. Yet, when Mark Antony speaks a minute later, they very quickly turn to cursing Brutus and the rest of the conspirators. Granted, this is directly after the murder of the head of state but it is troubling to watch them switch positions so fast. People today seem just as fickle, heavily influenced by social media, news outlets, propaganda, and politicians’ ‘heartfelt’ speeches.

Conclusion:

There are no heroes here. This is truly a story of gray areas and I cannot decide who to root for. The conspirators mostly had the best intentions but their methods were over the top. Caesar’s pride went before his fall but that fall should have been political and not fatal. Anthony through oil on the fire when a cooler head would have prevailed. At best, Brutus might be considered a tragic hero because his heart was in the right place but his missteps caused his downfall and death.

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Theater of Blood (1973)

October 31, 2017

104 minutes – Rated R for blood, gore, ironic murders, and violent creativity.

Working in theater is tough. I should know, I studied to be a Stage Manager for four years until I decided I did not really want to be in charge. Instead, I got a job for five years as an electrician, a carpenter, a lighting designer and a sound designer. I took pride in my work and everybody around me took pride in their work too. We lived and died by how good a show we could put on and how many people we could get to buy tickets. We wanted those people to leave at the end of the night and go tell their friends to go see the show too. Critics can be friends of that effort or they can be enemies. A lot of people, especially casual theatergoers, respect the opinions of critics and will abandon a show that is critically panned. That loses money for a theater and consequently makes an actor less likely to be hired. A bad review hurts everybody involved. So, there is palpable fear when the reviewer arrives at the theater and again when the review is published.

I seem to have settled into a pattern with some of my picks for Halloween. I tend to start to fill slots based on what I like and what I have done before. It does not always end up that way but so far there have been some constants. One of those constants is that the last two years I have reviewed a movie starring Vincent Price. This movie is this year’s offering. Vincent Price is a very unique actor. He comes from the age of film acting where a lot of the workhorses in the industry came from a theater or a live performance background. This trained most of those actors with excellent diction and high charisma. Theater also requires its actors to make everything they do larger than life so that the audience can see and hear their emotions. Therefore, theater actors making the transition to film must be coached to pull back and be more subtle. Therefore, directors rarely have to coax more out of them which feels like it would be much less work. All of this obviously helped give Price his trademark magnetically eerie voice which he could turn on and off like a simple light switch.

Vincent Price was not just a national treasure, he was also a global treasure. He had a beautiful voice that was unmatched by anyone I have yet to hear. I could listen to him read the phonebook if doing so did not send chills up my spine. Like Bela Lugosi, he was a master at making the most innocuous thing sound spooky. In this, we get Price as what he was, a brilliant but underrated actor. His musical voice echoes through most of the movie, either through dialogue or narration. Never have I seen Shakespeare used to kill people but it makes so much sense. He is joined on his journey for revenge by a motley crew who do not talk much but are comically insane. They are opposed by a group of critics played by actors who are very good at acting very posh and academic. Caught in the middle is Price’s character’s daughter who is played with absolute conviction by Diana Rigg. Additionally, there are also the police who join with a newspaperman played by Ian Hendry to try to solve the crimes.

This movie was so brilliant with its kills. Really, you need to have studied Shakespeare to some extent to truly understand each kill. I would compare the kills in this movie to another set of Vincent Price movies, the Abominable Dr. Phibes. His kills are also meant to be ironic and each one is also a literary reference. In that case, it was the Judeo-Christian bible but in this case, it is Shakespeare that guides the themes of each murder. However, this movie felt far less dreamy and while it was full of fantasy, it remained grounded and on point. On top of that, there were gallons of blood used in this movie. The deaths and the blood looked really good, especially for a seventies horror film. There are few fancy prosthetics. The effects seem to use a lot of great old theater tricks which makes them all the creepier. What is more, they take great care to add some comedy in with some of the deaths which makes the more grisly deaths all the more horrible.

Overall, I really loved this one. It was such a beautiful way to approach the end of this year’s Halloween celebration. Every year, I try to find a good Vincent Price horror/supernatural film to review because he was a legend. This year, I was also looking for movies to fit my chosen theme for Halloween. What luck that I found one that was not only focused on Shakespeare but also starred the brilliant Vincent Price. A little bit of trivia, this is also Vincent Price’s favorite movie that he ever starred in.

Interview Questions 5

August 22, 2016

Expelliarmus

Where would you go in a time machine?

 I am kind of split on this question. By the time I got into high school, I had the show business bug bad and I worked on a lot of theater. First, I was a volunteer and then after college, I worked professionally. Through high school, college and beyond, one name that constantly came up was William Shakespeare. Without looking it up, I would say that I have done at least ten different Shakespeare plays and I enjoyed each one. So, one of the times that I would go back to is the time of Shakespeare to see what it was all about. I would definitely attend a Shakespeare play and a Marlowe play as well (probably Doctor Faustus). I would see what it was really like when Kings and Queens still ruled the land before more advanced systems of government formed. However, as I have been studying the law and following the recent elections, a sudden thought has been sparked. They say that Democracy was first born in Greece. I would love to go back and see that Senate in action and compare it to today’s legislative bodies. To see legendary philosophers plying their trade as things we read about in textbooks are taught from the horse’s mouth. I could also see some ancient Greek theater as well which would be absolutely fascinating.

The Flash

Which super power would you like to have?

As a guy who grew up reading comic books and watching genre movies and television, I have thought about this question for a long time. When I was really young, I was totally undersized due to a medical abnormality that I was born with. I was the shortest kid and that included being shorter than every single guy and girl my age. In fact, my brothers quickly overtook me in height and are both still taller than I am. So, I dreamed of having super strength. The idea of being able to benchpress a car was attractive for somebody who was so small. While I really did not get bullied much in school, the idea of using that strength in gym class and wowing people was a nice idle fantasy. Later, I wanted the power of flight because I was a frustrated teenager. I wanted freedom. I do really well on my own and the idea of being able to go wherever I wanted without a car was really attractive. Finally, near the end of high school and into college I was walking a lot. While walking is a nice activity, sometimes it can just take too long to accomplish. I want super speed. Even today I would love to have super speed powers. It would save me all the time in my mundane tasks and leave me more time to do all the thinking tasks. I want to be the fastest man alive.

Coke Pepsi.jpg
Pepsi or Coke?

This is a hard one and in order for me not to pick a cop out answer, I will attempt to actually make a decision between the two. I am one of the few people who likes both. Now, lately, I have been shocked to talk with people who absolutely hate Pepsi and love Coca-Cola. I can understand brand loyalty. When I was little, a Coca-Cola was a treat and I felt happy when I got to drink one. My family is from the American South where Coke is king. We come from Georgia originally which is the heart of Coca-Cola’s global kingdom and most of our family never moved north of the Mason-Dixon line. So I grew up drinking Coca-Cola and I can’t remember when I first tasted Pepsi. I think I do not remember it because I was so underwhelmed. I was not underwhelmed with the product itself but I could not tell a significant difference. In the leaner times, we had replaced Coke with Shasta and I could definitely tell the difference there. For me, Pepsi tastes a little bit sweeter but is mostly just like Coca-Cola. So when waitstaff asked me if I minded drinking Pepsi at restaurants I would cheerfully tell them that it was more than acceptable. In college, Rutgers had a distribution deal with Coke so there was not a choice and I often had a bottle of coke within arm’s reach. After college, in the wilds of New Jersey, I started buying bottles of Pepsi and mixing it with orange soda. I really liked that. Where I live now, there is a Pepsi distribution plant within walking distance so the Pepsi symbol is a friendly sight I associate with home. However, now that I think about it, Coke feels more like home to me. It makes me think of my family heritage and where we came from.


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