Stone Soup Shakespeare sends the fate of “Julius Caesar” to the stars and back

 

brutus

Miquela Cruz, as Brutus, declaims in Stone Soup Shakespeare’s performance of “Julius Caesar” Saturday at the Shorewood Library. 

 

Their current website epigraph reads: “Men are sometimes masters of their own fates. The fault, dear Brutus, is not in the stars, but in ourselves.”

It’s Cassius speaking, in the great play Julius Caesar, not long before “dear Brutus” colludes with Cassius in assassinating Caesar, the powerful Roman general, just returned from a triumphant war against Pompey. Brutus is also Caesar’s dearest friend.

Chicago-based Stone Soup Shakespeare’s performance of Julius Caesar showed the “men” in firm control of their theatrical fate, despite swirling winds and a couple of wailing fire trucks trundling past the outdoor setting of the Shorewood Library lawn.

Despite the limits of barebones props and sets, the young troupe conveyed the drama, moral conundrums and tragedy of this story of betrayal, political assassination, and profound self-questioning. It was a deeply moving foray into Shakespeare’s tragedies, from a company which has typically toured the Bard’s comedies and fantasies. So,  for this attendee, it amounted to their most gratifying production to date. And the crowd showed great appreciation at the end. 1

Unlike the comedies, this had minimal madcap motion and slapstick. Accordingly, the company presented the text with greater clarity and impact than previously. The Bard’s drama and poetry shone forth like so many faceted jewels.

julia

Caesar (Julia Stemper) begins to feel the pressure of political unrest, and perhaps a hint of his looming fate, in Stone Soup Shakespeare’s performance of “Julius Caesar.”

Especially after the dreadful, bloody or heroic deed, Brutus must wonder if the difficult answer about his fateful decision dwells only in the enigmatic glimmer in the sky. Indeed, Brutus’s closest ally in the murder plot, Cassius, is a head-spinner, alternating between such reflective illumination and utter hotheadedness, a contrast well-drawn by Josh Pennington.

cassius

Cassius (left, Josh Pennington) consoles Brutus (Miquela Cruz) who has just lost his closest friend, Julius Caesar, in an assassination they both participated in. 

Regarding Cassius’s epigrammic comment: Does the “fault” lie in their life-snuffing act or in Caesar’s exceedingly “great ambition” to become Rome’s emperor, which compels Brutus to betray Caesar most of all?

Short of assassination, the play resonates today in the dilemma of Donald Trump and fired FBI director James Comey, especially in Trump’s “hope” — or “directive” as Comey sees it —  that he be utterly loyal to Trump, rather than to his nation and the Constitution. Trump’s fate as president may lie in himself, his own “great ambition” and it’s many seemingly self-destructive faults. And like Brutus, Comey is aiming to act for the sake of the nation. A Brutus utterance might be Comey’s: “For I am arm’d so strong with honesty that (threats) pass by me as the idle wind, which I respect not.” Comey admits being “stunned” and intimidated by Trump in one-one-one meetings.

And yet Comey did finally speak “honestly” in a manner that may seal Trump’s fate, as surely as Cassius’ fury and Brutus’s decisions seal Caesar’s. Certainly Trump has behaved more like a self-indulgent, impulsive Roman ruler than a democracy’s president and guardian, especially in never admitting any wrongdoing, even about his most demonstrably-false tweets. “Th’ abuse of greatness is when it disjoins with remorse from power,” Brutus comments.

A difference is that Comey seems hardly as close to Trump as Brutus is to Caesar, whom Brutus feels a truly great man: “As Caesar loved me, I weep for him; as he was fortunate, I rejoiced at it; as he was valiant, I honor him; but – as he was ambitious, I slew him.”

In the moment before he’s killed, Caesar unwittingly borrows Cassius’s celestial metaphor to aggrandize himself: “I am constant as the northern star, of whose true-fixed and resting quality there is no fellow in the firmament.” It’s a brilliant Shakespearian flourish of irony.

Once Caesar lies dead, Brutus is ravaged with self-doubt and recrimination. So Shakespeare dramatizes one of the greatest moral and psychological conundrums a human in a certain position of power might face. As Brutus, Miquela Cruz carries the mightiest role burden with grace and equipoise. She does underplay Brutus’s apparent angst. But, unlike Cassius, it’s in Brutus’s character to strive for a certain balance between extreme emotions, which makes his decisions and actions no easier, as the wrenching ending proves. Under Eric Mercado’s direction, Cruz, along with Julia Stemper as a vivid Caesar, showed how well this company pulls off non-gender-specific casting.

choreo

Stone Soup Shakespeare’s performance of the tragedy “Julius Caesar” was offset by choreography, song, ensemble chanting and drumming, and an audience member as a surprise performer.

It may seem improbable that this small band of 21st century American millennials, juggling roles throughout, might actually reach into the Elizabethan and Roman Empire eras. Yet, aloft in energy and passion, they rode “the tides of time” back, like mythical birds following the constant currents and the northern star, through history’s ceaseless cycles.

sculpture

The sculpture “Congruity” by Narendra Patel overlooks the setting for Stone Soup Shakespeare’s performance Saturday of “Julius Caesar.” All Photos by Kevin Lynch

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1 It’s worth noting, despite play’s violence, the company didn’t even resort to stage weaponry. So this managed to be family-friendly fare, as serious as it mostly was. Also, Stone Soup has done staged readings this year of such meaty fare as Richard III and Hamlet, clearly demonstrating their range beyond the comedy that might seem to tour easier to outreach locations they normally pursue.

The night of Trump’s inauguration inspires this protest march

park crowd

The crowd for the first gathering of the Milwaukee Coalition Against Trump crowded into Red Arrow Park on Friday, before beginning a protest march throughout downtown, on the night of Donald Trump’s inauguration. The Marcus Center for the Performing Arts is in the background. All photos by Kevin Lynch.

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The national news today report, and document live, huge rallies and marches – 600 different marches – across the United States in response to the Trump inauguration, including the Washington women’s march, over 500,000 strong. This represents perhaps an unprecedented groundswell of grassroots political response. But my report below is a prelude to all that, a protest rally in Milwaukee last night, only hours after the inauguration.  

MILWAUKEE – The looming fog and surly mist may have reflected the dark inner mood that brought thousands of people to Red Arrow Park in downtown Milwaukee Friday evening. They came from all directions, gathering to protest what they felt was the questionable legitimacy and ominous threat of Donald Trump, who had just been inaugurated as America’s 45th president hours before. Now, while Trump gallivanted around to various inauguration balls in Washington, the crowd milled about, some hopping back and forth to stay warm, their own little dance of defiance.

The event didn’t unfold seamlessly; the Milwaukee Coalition Against Trump at this point is perhaps a bit too ad hoc to have provided for electric amplification for leaders to speak to the throng. Instead they use hand-held megaphones and, standing about 15 yards away from their podium, I and others near to me could not hear what the speakers said, except for fleeting words.

So I climbed a staircase behind the podium and crowd and got a better vantage point and suddenly could hear better. One woman then announced that time had come to begin a march through downtown.

The massive coil of humanity began to unfurl and snake its way west onto State Street. As I followed, I passed a woman standing next to a park bench. She held a sign and told marchers: “Don’t forget Dontre Hamilton!”

Yes, of course, I thought to myself. This is Red Arrow Park, and that bench is probably the very one that Hamilton, a young black man slept on a few years back, until he was accosted by Milwaukee police who then shot and killed him –  after other officers had previously reported that Hamilton posed no threat to anyone. It was Milwaukee’s own dire story of police violence against unarmed black men, which has repeated itself time after time, seemingly week after week, across America in recent years.

protest rink

The crowd begins to begin a march by leaving beside the Red Arrow Park skating rink, and past the park bench where Dontre Hamilton was killed by Milwaukee police.

Donald Trump, however, had campaigned on “law and order,” and apparently more of the same, a stance strongly supported by David A. Clarke, the controversial cowboy hat-wearing black Milwaukee County Sheriff, who was the object of several chants this night, especially as the crowd reached the police station and County Sheriff’s office.

protest on stateThe marchers head west on State Street toward The Bradley Center and, in the background, the Milwaukee Courthouse.

The protest march moved across The Milwaukee River, past The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel communications building, where I once worked. Spirits now rose as chants began and the walking marshalled energy, including a woman, her hat bedecked with pro-women buttons, pushing a young man in a wheel chair. In the next moment, the march ground to a halt, at the corner of Fourth and State Streets in front of the marquee of the Bradley Center advertising for an upcoming Bucks game.

Suddenly police became conspicuously evident especially gathered on Fourth and State. Television cameramen scrambled around, trying to get good angles to shoot from.

“Why did it stop?” one woman asked. “Is this as far as it’s going to go? They said we would go much further than this.”

“I don’t know, maybe the police stopped it,” I answered.

But one of the organizers, a short, African-American woman with a megaphone, continued to muster rhythmic phrases, which the crowd chanted in unison: “NO TRUMP, NO KKK, NO RACIST USA!”…“NO TRUMP, NO KKK, NO RACIST USA!”

Some of the countless handmade signs spoke quite bluntly, including one message, held aloft by several young women, which read simply “PUSSY GRABS BACK,” a reference to an obscene comment that Donald Trump had made about his efforts to molest women, in a recording that gained notoriety during the presidential campaign. My own hand-made sign read “Chop Down Trump the Stump” and included a printout of a satirical drawing I did during the campaign, depicting Donald Trump as a tree stump, with a number of small banners stuck into it, bearing various racist, sexist and xenophobic comments he made during his improbable rise to the presidency, despite losing the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by 2.8 million votes.

Still, the march remained stalled. Police stood by in ready, their dark uniforms silhouetted in the night.

“I’m getting scared,” a middle-aged woman said to me. I said nothing but patted her on the back reassuringly.  An electronic sign flickered above with the image of Milwaukee Bucks giant All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo, a sort of real-life god whom, in this uncertain moment, anyone might claim for their cause.

The minutes passed in increasingly agonizing slowness, as the trailing end of the marchers now began massing more tightly in the intersection.

And then for no apparent reason, the marches began moving forward. I wondered if the coalition’s strategy was to stop to make a statement at this conspicuous spot, where the largest crowds gather in downtown, although for sporting events.

protest overpass

The crowd continued up State Street until we made a left turn and headed toward the brilliantly lit tunnel that penetrates the Milwaukee County Courthouse building.

protest tunnel

The marchers enter the Courthouse tunnel and raise a thunderous din.

And here something extraordinary happened. The crowd instinctively realized the acoustic resonance of the long tunnel and a huge roar began swelling as they entered and occupied the extended space. The sound magnified into a boisterously massive white noise of human passion, and probably some defiantly anarchic energy. The tunnel normally expedites swift-moving cars, and right there I felt thankful that the protest organizers had apparently received the proper permits to march through most of the major downtown streets that cars normally prowl.

protest courthouse

That became all the more striking when the march approached, from 3rd Street, the entrance to the Grand Avenue Mall and then turned left onto Wisconsin Avenue. Though a Milwaukee native, I had lived in Madison for nearly 20 years, until returning to my hometown in 2009. I had participated in some Madison protest marches. Now, it suddenly struck me: I was walking down the middle of Wisconsin Avenue, the main street of Milwaukee at 7 p.m. on a Friday night, protected by the river of humanity.

protest on Wis

A large protest sign floats down Wisconsin Avenue, like a ghost from the 1960s.

We approached the Riverside Theater and its grand, gleaming marquee advertising upcoming live performances by big-name entertainers. (Continue reading blow)

 

Protest on Wis toward RivProtest Rivprotest Riv 2The protest crowd heads down Wisconsin Avenue, Milwaukee’s downtown main street, to the Riverside Theater.

It struck me how our own cultural and political performance now intersected with the downtown’s other primary venue of entertainment performance, besides the Bradley Center. It felt like we were playing out a statement about what seemed important and vibrant and culturally alive, right now. One young woman began singing out the great Civil Rights-era anthem “We Shall Overcome,” and others nearby, including myself joined in. Right here, in this moment, the song’s resolute, hopeful lyrics, and stately, chest-heaving melody moved me, and I knew I was not alone.

Again we crossed over the Milwaukee River and eventually wended our way back to Red Arrow Park, situated across from another of the downtown’s largest entertainment venues, The Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.

Yes, ours was a performance, a drama of dissent, but it was virtually spontaneous, aside from its provisional organizing.

“What does democracy look like?” one of the organizers had shouted through a megaphone several times during the march.

“This is what democracy looks like!” The crowd responded. Yes, it’s a familiar refrain at American protest marches. It signifies the people getting their moment to sing out, to let their cultural utterance seek out the truth, even as the dawn of a new presidency feels as dark and gloomy as this night, which seemed akin to the Trump’s strikingly ominous inauguration speech.

James Fallows, the National Book Award-winning author and national correspondent for The Atlantic, has read all 45 presidential inauguration speeches. Fallows noted last night that Trump’s was the first such speech to not display humility in honor of the office, nor an effort to open his arms to all of America, to try to bring us together, despite our differences.

But the light of energy this crowd radiated for several hours is the kind of force that could turn that dark dawn, slowly but surely, into something powerful, positive and righteous for the great mass of the American people and their democracy, which tonight looked like this, in cities all across America.

 

 

This is No Cold War Joke. It’s President-select Donald Trump Feeding Russia the Punchlines, One at a Time. Who’s Gonna Bomb First?

trump-putin

Courtesy cdn.images. express. co.uk

“The word mammoth is derived from the Tartar word mamma meaning the earth :”… From this some mistakenly came to believe that the great beast had always lived underground, burrowing like a big mole. And they were sure it died when it came to the surface and breathed fresh air!” – Roy Chapman Andrews from All About Strange Beasts of the Past (An epigraph to Lorrie Moore’s novel Anagrams)

“Whenever I’m serious, the only vocabulary I can come up with our words that have been spoken in the last 30 seconds. My sentences become anagrams sentences before. (That is an argument about intelligence and sexual fidelity in marriage”) – Lorrie Moore, from “The Nun of That,” from Anagrams

Has anyone been feeling furious lately, like right in the middle of the morning, without knowing why until they happen to check the news on their smart phone or turn on the tube?

Well, let’s try to focus that fury a bit into some something concentrated and somewhat analytic.

Let’s pay a little closer attention and start at a microscopic linguistic level. How might Trump morph into an American Putin? Is it any more than a coincidence that their two surnames are very pugnacious utterances when spoken aloud? Then notice how close they are to anagrams of each other. Try some letter juggling with Trump: “Pmurt.” Or “putrm.” Knock the second curve off the m, and you have “putrn.” Chop the curve off the “r” & pin it on top and you have Putin!

(Add the r to “putin” and turn the p upside down & you have “putrid.” How mellifluous.

A bit more seriously in a literary manner.  now certainly have perhaps the two strangest presidents to ever lead the two most openly antagonist superpowers in the globe. Trump and Putrid, I mean, Putin and Stump.

They are both mammoths, whose power is almost totally circular and inward-feeding from the energy and resources of the great nations they seem to be leading as elected presidents.

trump-angry

See The Donald Mammoth roar. Media.salon.com

It’s a bit like a woolly mammoth, say, from rising up from a prehistoric grave like a Neanderthal man wearing a woolly mammoth coat and headdress. Everybody flees in horror and they try to blow down any courageous challengers who might be a lingering. The working class or the lumpen proletariat seem to like some of the outrageous racist utterances from Trump’s mouth: Mexican rapists, radical Islamists (so let’s get rid of all his Islam Americans, even though the vast majority of domestic terrorism in America since the war and terror began has been committed by domestic right-wing offensive proto-Nazi mass killers).

But when people go to his rallies or get all their information from social media things like the truth are easily filtered out and Trump fans love the huff and the puff.

Let’s imagine a little showdown between Trump and Putin in which they’re both stripped-down to shirtless and face off, with Trump’s southward-sloping profile his belly curves tantalizingly close to Putin’s chest, being quite a bit taller and fatter.

putin-horse

Vladimir Putin. courtesy huffingtonpost.com

Although we’ve never seen Putin exhaling a big huff and puff, we’ve just seen the very posed photo op of him topless on a horse. But he seems to be in considerably better shape than Trump.

But the eyebrow-raising “bromance” between the two proceeds apace, to where we can only guess. We know that Trump admires Putin and probably wishes he was that smart and autocratic. Putin is possibly the richest man in the world because he has contrived to funnel a great percentage of his own nations GDP into his own bank account and is worth reportedly $86 billion.

As for Trump’s worth, who knows because he still hides behind a supposed audit to refuse to release his tax returns. We are aware of course that he lost something like $91 million a number of years back which may have allowed him to avoid paying income taxes for 15 years.

The Russian hacking of the U.S. election “was an attack on America, less lethal than a missile but still profoundly damaging to our system. It’s not that Trump and Putin were colluding to steal an election. But if the C.I.A. is right, Russia apparently was trying to elect a president who would be not a puppet exactly but perhaps something of a lap dog — a Russian poodle.”  – Nicholas Kristof, The New York Times

Is this a cruel, unfair metaphor? We know that Mr. Kristof, despite his Pulitzer Prizes, is one of those highly specious “liberals.” Consider, as per the Times’ Maureen Dowd, who seems to hate Hillary Clinton more than any other politician if you consider her journalistic track record. So she’s going to give her opponent a fair shake, no?

She wrote of the last debate: “Talking about Putin, Trump once more offered the simple reason he has flipped his party’s wary stance toward the Evil Empire, subjugating his party’s ideology to his own ego: ‘He said nice things about me.’’’

It seems the most disarming thing that any raging mammoth can do to this orange paper sabre-toothed tiger is not to stomp on him like Hillary Clinton did with mighty psychological glee especially in the last presidential debate, in which he finally responded with a devastatingly policy-dismantling riposte: ”Such a nasty woman.”

No, all a smart person like Vladimir has to do is ”say nice things” about him. The Donald seems to have an Pavlovian response to niceness when it is directed at him. This is the height of quasi-erotic banality, something that perhaps the French filmmaker Luis Bunuel might have worked into one of his satires of the empty lives of the bourgeoisie, laced with odd sado-masochism (think of Belle de Jour).

Of course, Trump is the bourgeoisie bloated into the upper 1%, his wealth is the whole buttressing of his self-esteem and ego. He seems to have no firm principles or values other than accumulating money and its attendant shiny object sheen and “prestige.”

So “saying nice things” to him, to disarm him seems a reasonable equivalent to petting a lapdog poodle. The little creature, with the funny red sweep of fur over his brow, and and involuntarily begins to wag his tail. He quivers and emits a tiny shuddering yelp of pleasure.

Is the tail wagging the dog? It certainly seems to be. Let’s remember that Pavlov was a great Russian psychologist and the best leaders of that nation have employed such manipulative powers, including Joseph Stalin. Look at Pavlov.

pavlov-photo

This is a man who knows what he want, and needs to do, to extract the desired effect in his object of experimentation which, by now, is well-accepted scientific psychological truth.

pavlov

Add “NICE POODLE” (in soothing tones with steady strokes), to the left column of this chart. Then another “SALIVATION”.

Because the tail is being orchestrated by Vladimir Putin, like a hypnotist whispering to the alert tail, “You are getting verrry sleepy.” The tail begins following the Russian’s swaying vest clock… The poodle himself is virtually oblivious of this behind-the-butt love waltz.

You might also take one of those cute red “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN” baseball caps and put it on the head of Putin’s poodle, and his perky ears hold it in place neatly.

Such a “nice” image. Of course, that is nice mainly if we focus on the poodle’s perky, pretty posterior. If we look up front, prettiness, um, needs a napkin, or three.

pavlov-dog

Courtesy inkart.com

Now, this image of a “Pavlov’s dog” is not nearly as pretty as a lap poodle would be. But let’s imagine it starting as a Neanderthal in mighty-woolly-mammoth drag, morphing slowly into a fast-shedding shaggy dog, morphing into finally, a manicured lap poodle.

So  then one of his aides would read the whole column to him. You know what comes next .A detailed policy speech on culture intelligence strategies for responding to Russian hacking? Well, no. Maybe something more like, you know, what all (make America) great presidents do when challenged. He tweets. Eg.:

31 Dec 2016

This nasty blogger and people like Hillary are just jealous because Putin says nice things about me, and not them! Ha Ha!

OK, he’s eloquent. So let’s give our Trumpoodle a break, especially with the “optics.”

Ah, butt Larry King seems to have the right idea here:

larry-king-petting-trump

“Good Trump, good Trump.” celebalite.c

Okay, Okay, Trump fans who have, or are capable of, reading this far. I’ve tried to include lots of pictures. (I wonder, would The Donald read this far? Sure, if he scrolls down and sees his own face. So he’ll probably start reading around here. Sensing this possibility, I am striving for a bit of a Pavlov angle here 🙂

I am certainly willing to wait to see how the “president-select” (see the Electoral College fiasco) Trump “performs” once he puts his paw on the Bible and takes that solemn oath with a few muffled “ruffs”.

However, seriously speaking, what is scaring me is his cabinet appointing. If approved, it will be the most radically right-wing one in American history.

Trump media relations will be based on a propoganda mode; a daily misinformation campaign. Note his recent comment on the Russian hacking of the Democratic party files: “In the computer age, nobody knows exactly what’s going on.”

Media critic and professor of journalism Jay Rosen comments: “Journalism that tries to find its public through ‘inside’ coverage of the political class is vulnerable to rejection by portions of the public that are busy rejecting that class.  This is a hard problem, to which “listening” sounds like a soft, warm and fuzzy solution. It isn’t.”

The media needs to find fresh ways of actually listening to the public, especially that which completely distrusts the press, following Trump’ cues fervently.

Rosen extensively quotes Andrew Haeg, CEO of the journalism start-up Groundsource, who has a smart approach in mind.

“Haeg recently tried to sketch what a ‘listening’ model looks like. I found inspiring his imaginary description of a two-person listening team:

Emboldened by election postmortems urging better listening, inspired by (the movie) Spotlight, trained in new tools and techniques, and stoked to pioneer new forms of listening-first investigative journalism, the duo works deep into the night, tipped over Chinese takeout, bleary-eyed, adrenaline-fueled, writing as they go a new playbook comprised of equal parts data journalism, community outreach, crowdsourcing, and investigative journalism.

They print and post handmade signs in grocery stores and truck stops: “What should we know?” with a phone number to text or call. They FOIA 311 data, download 211 data from the United Way, use Splunk and IFTTT and other tools to trigger alerts when key community datasets are updated. They hold town hall forums, set open office hours at local coffee shops and diners, and form key partnerships with community organizations to invite underserved communities into the conversation. They build a community of hundreds who ask questions and vote on which ones get answered, get texts with updates on the newsgathering progress and ongoing opportunities to share their concerns and stories. The community feed that develops is rich, authentic, and often shockingly prescient.

 

A new strategy by the press in the interest of factual truth for every citizen to use, no matter how they voted, is crucial to the new American surreality that Trump toys with daily.  Or is it Putin doing the reality-manipulating daily, via his lap dog, right here in our very own virtual back yard?

Isn’t Trump’s possibly impeachment-worthy complicity with Putin your answer?