A recent Chicago Shakespeare Theatre’s remarkable production of “Julius Caesar” imbues, without altering a word, a contemporary interpretation; hawkers selling “Caesar” T-shirts, hotdogs and huge signs encouraging voters to go to www.juliuscaesar.com to register; proving Shakespeare’s power to habitually defy the archaic, lending ubiquitous credence to his massive appeal throughout the ages.
Paolo and Vittorio Taviani, brothers whose efficacious, formidable imaginations are the force behind the brilliance of this stunningly unique production of “Julius Caesar”; filmed entirely in Rebibbia prison, outside of Rome; the cast is comprised of notorious convicts, men serving life -sentences for heinous crimes; the “audition” process demands sincerity and ingenuity, each man repeating, with different intonations the same sentence; desperation and hope informs each interview; a chance to depict a historical version of men who have murdered, slandered, sabotaged their “friends, Romans and countrymen”; men whose crimes personally resonate with each inmate. Staggering, that those selected were neophytes.
A play, within a play, within a film, reeks with intelligence, generates profound empathy for men whose lives will always be enshrined behind iron bars; their acting skills might lack the sophistication, seasoning of those trained (Lawrence Olivier, Richard Burton) but are divinely compensated by the virtuoso intensity of their anger, galvanizing realization that great, “honorable” men are, oftentimes, doomed by their ambition. William would have applauded their adaptation.
Caesar tell Brutus, “men at some times are masters of their fates: the fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves that we are underlings.” After the final curtain, incarcerated in their tiny sphere; those words must scream, haunt; wondering how and when they surrendered control of their destiny; forever plagued by untold possibilities, cauterized, squandered abilities.
The Taviani brothers raped anonymity, degradation from stained lives, allowing a hiatus from despondency, bestowing a taste of fame, not infamy, to brush these fractured existences, momentarily alleviating doomed “underlings”, leaving accomplished, controlled “masters of their fates”, for an ephemeral second, free, communing with the celestial.