Working on Caesar feels like the World Series of Dramaturgy. A dramaturg’s job shifts with every show, but our work on this production focuses on historical research. Somehow, each of the four (yes, four) of us “turging” Caesar are kept busy. On a typical show, the research centers on one time period. But Arthur Nauzcyiel’s staging of Caesar takes place simultaneously in Caesar’s Rome, Shakespeare’s England, Kennedy’s America, and the Loeb Stage of 2008. There’s a never-ending supply of books, images, and audio to inform our work.
What’s so exciting about Arthur’s Caesar is the subtle ways the production speaks to current events. From day one, it was made clear to the cast and staff that our modern tie-ins would be much deeper than Bush parodies and current military fatigues. The Kennedy Administration is the perfect metaphor. This week, my TV set was flooded with ads comparing JFK with Clinton and Obama, reminding me just how badly Americans want to be transported back to the days of Kennedy’s Camelot.
The 60s era has been a blast to research. The artistic responses to Kennedy’s assassination, most notably those of the Ant Farm, are profound. But on a simpler level, the visual and aural world of the period is incredibly pleasurable. The clothes are gorgeous. The furniture and décor is impossibly chic. And the music, played live by our fantastic jazz trio, sticks inside my head for hours after a rehearsal.
If I had to close with one word for our production, it’s “unexpected”. Because Arthur wasn’t raised here in states, where Caesar is constantly read, quoted, and rehashed, he brings none of our preconceptions to the text. He’s able to listen to the text, ignoring the past interpretations of artistic megastars like Edwin and John Wilkes Booth, Joseph Papp, Al Pacino, Denzel Washington, and Orson Welles. Each scene seems deeply connected to the language, rather than to pomp or circumstance. Somehow, I manage to learn new levels of the play each time Arthur works on a scene. And the beautiful music, costumes, and sets don’t hurt, either.