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Artistic license…or a call to action?

June 11, 2017

When is a stage play not just entertainment?

New York City is supposed to be the U.S. cradle of refined artistic expression, of culture and art for art’s sake, rather than crass commercialism in the manner of Hollywood.

It is home to the Museum of Modern Art, the Frick Gallery, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and numerous on or near Broadway theaters such as the Palace, the Helen Hayes, the Hirschfield and the Lyceum, to name a few.

Suffice it to say you don’t get into one of those theaters for an evening performance wearing cargo shorts and flip flops.

In an effort to allow ordinary people exposure to the great playwrights, the city also has such programs as “Shakespeare in the Park” where you don’t have to be able to wear the equivalent of a Tiffany’s showroom to gain entrance. While it does require tickets to attend the Central Park open-air productions, the tickets are free.

The program is sponsor and taxpayer (through the National Endowment for the Arts) funded  and has averaged about 80,000 in annual attendance as reported in 2015.

Plays are one of the oldest forms of performance art, and until literacy became the norm outside of castles and churches, often served as the vehicle for both entertainment and a venue for social and political commentary for the masses.

Which brings us to this season’s offerings. For 2017, the Central Park open air venue is offering “Julius Caesar” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” two of the bard’s most enduring works.

For those that slept through English Lit, the former is the tale of the opposition to, and eventual assassination by means of a gang of men stabbing him to death, the man often reported to be the first emperor of the Roman Empire when it morphed from the Roman Republic to become the world’s greatest superpower of its day.

Shakespeare wrote through the lens of the current events of his day, and many of his plays reflect on basic human nature. Palace intrigue, political polarization and the attendant violence they spawn are as old as the human race itself.

With that in mind, be advised that this year’s NYC offering of Julius Caesar’s rise and fall is not the one that your tweed-garbed literature professor bored you with in school.

This one has been updated to reflect the political climate of today.

That’s known in the literary world as taking artistic license.  Essentially the storyline is a springboard for a playwright or producer to present a viewpoint or highlight a nuance within a previously published work and it’s a perfectly acceptable form of allegorical interpretation.

That observation brings us to the current moment.

2017’s Julius, opening on June 12,  looks an awful lot like Donald Trump, and Calpurnia (Caesar’s wife) speaks with what is described as a “Slavic” accent. His eventual killers don’t much resemble Brutus and Cassius either.

No matter your political leanings, that’s a permissible form of artistic license, bringing the ancient chronicle into the modern world. Many interpretations have existed for as long as the story has existed.

But at that point the adaptation takes a darker turn. While the original conspiracy and assassination was conducted by white male conspirators, this version shows only racial minorities and women stabbing this modern interpretation of Caesar.

Given the political climate of today, that’s either a blatant attempt to garner greater financial support from liberal patrons of the arts, or it has a more sinister objective.

It’s likely that if pressed the producer will opine that the stabbing is simply a metaphor for resistance. To do otherwise would be unwise at best.

Coming so close on the heels of several high profile terrorist stabbing incidents, and the ISIS calls to use weapons at hand,  it’s at least in poor taste, and may stretch the boundaries of free speech a bit too far.

Reviews have generally followed the lines you might expect in the Big Apple. Some find the left-leaning storyline boring. Others of course use it to tacitly support the play’s seeming objectives.

That’s the story…use your own judgment when interpreting it.

From → op-ed

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