Quick Review: Julius Caesar at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar is currently running at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater at Navy Pier in Chicago. Here are a few thoughts after watching the show this past weekend:

1. For me, the primary appeal of the play was in the modern retelling of the story. Several parts stood out. First, before the play started, there were a number of characters from the crowd out and about on the stage doing everything from running a hot dog stand, trying to get people to sign a petition, to holding pro-Caesar signs, to trying out a skateboard. This helped foreshadow the important role of the crowd in the play but also added some levity. Second, the comparisons to the United States of today are intriguing. The play was set in Washington, Marc Antony was cast as a prizefighter, and the battle scenes in the end looked like urban warfare you might see on the nightly news. Actually, the themes of power, honor, and the line between being a popular leader and a tyrant would resonant in many nations today. I don’t envy artists who have to freshen up plays and other cultural works that many people are familiar with but

2. The second act, which mainly consists of running conflict between Antony and Octavius versus Brutus and Cassius, was more like a war movie than a play. The scenes effectively looked like American military encampments, fighting in the streets looked like Modern Warfare (complete with a burned out and flipped over car on the stage as well as a defaced Caesar poster where he was made to look like the devil), and there was a real edge to the action. It is hard to pick up this kind of tension from simply reading the play (though this may be simply my recollection from first reading this in high school) and this kind of quick moving action can be hard to reproduce on the stage.

3. The favorable review in the Chicago Tribune suggested Brutus should have been played with a more tortured approach:

Brutus here is played by a very capable British actor named John Light, a handsome, hyperarticulate, brooding fellow whose speeches are filled with smarts and context. Light is making his American debut in an Americanized concept with a pretty pathetic American accent. That, one can forgive him. He could be doing a political Piers Morgan (a redundancy?). But it’s harder to see past the deeper problem: Light seems to miss one of the most fundamental aspects of Brutus: a good and decent man who loves his country. Light’s Brutus is certainly tortured by what is and is not expedient, fair enough, but tortured ain’t the whole picture of Mr. B.

Light doesn’t let you feel in your gut that requisite inherent decency and thus when J.C asks that famous question, one’s mind goes to, “Really? What makes him different from all the others? Where did we see that?”

However, I wonder if this doesn’t also feed into the modern interpretation of this play. Do our conflicted heroes of today really reflect on their emotions? Or do we expect them to grimly move forward and finish the job? I’m thinking of James Bond here and his more resolute nature. Tortured modern heroes may not have the time to be tortured; there are often more immediate concerns and the next action scene awaits.

4. There was a lot of blood in the killing of Caesar. Enough blood that most of the intermission involved several stagehands disinfecting the stage, scrubbing the blood out of the floor, and wiping things clean. (Note: there were no splash zone seats but it felt really really close in the third row.)

5. The setting for the Chicago Shakespeare Theater is hard to beat. Even on a cold February day, Navy Pier was an enjoyable place to be with a decent crowd all throughout, places to eat, and good views of the city. (Note: parking in the off-season is noticeably cheaper and plentiful.) Here is a picture of the view out of the southwest corner of the theater (apologies for the glare):

ChicagoShakespeareTheaterViewtotheSouthwest

In my opinion, this theater is one of the best things Navy Pier has going for it so I hope it does well and even expands its offerings.

Contrasting styles: Emanuel vs. Daley in with whom they meet and consult

The Chicago Reader has an interesting piece looking at who Mayor Rahm Emanuel meets with – and how this differs from Mayor Richard M. Daley’s approach:

In many ways, Emanuel’s schedule strikingly contrasts with his predecessor’s. Richard M. Daley is a Chicago guy, born and raised. Except for his college years in Providence, Rhode Island, he’s stayed here all of his life. And it shows in the people who had his ear: in addition to pols and big-shot business leaders, his meeting schedule was packed with the ministers of small churches, local school leaders, and owners of neighborhood businesses like the local sausage shop (see “Daley’s A-List”).

Emanuel, on the other hand, grew up in the north suburbs, went to college in New York, and spent the better part of the last two decades in Washington, first as an aide in the Clinton White House, then as a congressman, and finally, for almost two years, as Obama’s chief of staff.

Much of his mayoral schedule is taken up by meetings and calls with wealthy out-of-towners, many of whom have donated to his campaign. Indeed, it seems Emanuel has learned from his mentor, President Clinton. Under Clinton, the White House was open to big donors who got to spend the night in the Lincoln bedroom. In Emanuel’s case, he either invites them into his City Hall office or makes time to hang out at one of his favorite haunts…

Some days, Emanuel meets with more multimillionaires within an afternoon than most of us will cross paths with during our entire lives. On June 30, for example, after the mayor spent 30 minutes in his City Hall office with U.S. Treasury secretary Timothy Geithner, he took 15 minutes to meet with Marc Lasry, the billionaire CEO of Avenue Capital Group, a hedge fund operation. That was followed by 45 minutes with Stephen Ross, a New York-based real estate mogul and owner of the Miami Dolphins.

There could be two ways to view this:

1. This is good for Chicago. Due to Emanuel’s connections outside of Chicago, the city will benefit. The new mayor may spend a lot of time with out of town millionaires but these people could bring money and jobs into Chicago through this connection.

2. This is bad for Chicago. Emanuel is less involved with the “little people” of Chicago that are important for getting things done and working the patronage machine. Emanuel is more of a corporate mayor (having less time for local leaders) while Daley at least mingled with the commoners and neighborhood leaders knew they could meet with him at certain points.

I wonder how much of this should be chalked up to different styles of leadership, personal history, or simply a shift in what it means to be a politician today where Daley was following the example of his father while Emanuel is operating under the idea that politicians and businesses need to work together (perhaps the Bill Clinton model?).

The new Congress marked by more suburban, rural, and small town members?

Joel Kotkin continues to make the case that the political changes in the new Congress are marked by a city/suburb split. Kotkin explains this shift:

This contrasts dramatically with the last Congress. Virtually its entire leadership — from former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on down — represented either the urban core or affluent, close-in suburbs of large metropolitan areas. Powerful old lions like Reps. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) of Harlem, Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) of Los Angeles and Barney Frank (D-Mass.) of Newton, an affluent, close-in Boston suburb, roamed…

The new House leaders are, for the most part, from small towns, suburbs and interior cities. Most GOP pickups came from precisely these regions — particularly in the South and Midwest.

Kotkin then goes on to talk about the possible consequences of the change in leadership:

This change in geography also suggests a shift in the economic balance of power. The old Congress owed its allegiance largely to the “social-industrial” complex around Washington, Wall Street, public-sector unions, large universities and the emergent, highly subsidized alternative-energy industry. In contrast, the new House leaders largely represent districts tied to more traditional energy development, manufacturing and agriculture.

The urban-centered environmental movement’s much-hyped talk of “green jobs,” so popular in Obama-dominated Washington, is now likely to be supplanted by a concern with the more than 700,000 jobs directly related to fossil fuel production. Greater emphasis may be placed on ensuring that electric power rates are low enough to keep U.S. industry competitive.

The Obama administration’s land-use policies will also be forced to shift. Sums lavished on “smart growth” grants to regions, high-speed rail and new light-rail transit are likely to face tough obstacles in this Congress.

Kotkin is not alone in discussing these potential consequences: the Infrastructurist has been tracking for a while how Republican control might threaten plans for high-speed rail, infrastructure, and green programs.

But I wonder if suburban/exurban/more rural Congressmen will really express these kinds of political sensibilities in Congress. Traditionally, local suburban politics has been marked by a lack of partisanship (with many municipal races not involving the two major parties) and an emphasis on issues like keeping property taxes low, ensuring property values, and keeping crime rates low. Do these concerns translate to a national level where everything becomes a political skirmish and politicians consider the national budget, defense spending, entitlement programs, and so on? Can Kotkin or others point to a current or past member of Congress who has exemplified a suburban or exurban approach to national government that is distinct from an urban approach?