The facade of the Jerusalem YMCA.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
‘The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.”
Thus said Sir Edward Grey on the eve of World War I, those four ghastly years of death and destruction that were the genesis of the even ghastlier horrors of World War II.
There are nine lamps on the stage of Romeo Castellucci’s poetic, chilling, utterly extraordinary, pared to its essence Julius Caesar. The number nine is significant in both Christian and Jewish numerology for both good and evil. The lamplight does not illuminate the action. It’s just there, until it isn’t.
The stage is covered in white, the color of purity, the color of mourning in some cultures.
Caesar’s robe is blood red. The “acolytes”, there are three of them, wear white. There’s a bloodred stripe on the white of Mark Antony’s costume, an ironic echo to his famous speech, like the irony of the word ARS (art in Latin) on the plinth from which he speaks.
This Julius Caesar is all about the power for destruction and violence of words, or in their absence, the frightful deeds for which thumps, murmurs and other sound effects suffice. Not that there are all that many words. At the beginning we hear and see the exchange between the Tribune and the workmen of Rome, quite literally see because the actor (Simone Tony) shows us throat, uvula and vocal chords in action via an endoscope. It’s eerie, an internal universe.
Then Mark Antony (Dalmazio Vasini) haltingly speaks the famous “Friends, Romans and countrymen”, haltingly because the actor has undergone a total laryngectomy for cancer of the larynx and has learned to speak using his esophagus.
He struggles, but he gets them out, those inflammatory, provocative words that inflame and provoke even if we don’t quite understand them. We get the meaning. Caesar (Gianni Plazzi) doesn’t speak at all. He’s old, he shuffles, he hesitates, he gestures. But those gestures are firm, magisterial, confident. We get the meaning.
It’s over in 35 minutes, this Julius Caesar, but it continues to reverberate in the mind. The deserved accolades are almost incidental.
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