Julius Caeser. Spared Parts.
Outside of Federal Hall, we wait in a line that trails down the stone steps towards Wall Street. We do not ordinarily have much cause to come to Wall Street. But we are here. We are here to see Julius Caesar. Spared Parts. We have come to lend director Romeo Castellucci and the Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio our eyes and ears on the occasion of their New York City premiere.
“I look for neo-Classical spaces, temples that recall Roman or Greco-Roman buildings, with marble and columns. If we can’t find a neo-Classical space, we look for a brutal industrial space,” Castellucci told The New York Times. Federal Hall certainly fits the former requirement, but the context of Wall Street (impressive buildings that increasingly mask ghost towns, building lobbies turned into odd semi-public spaces that nobody frequents) also has the flavor of failed empire.
When we’re admitted at last, we sit on the floor. Wan light from the gray afternoon seeps in through the Federal Hall ceiling, a dome that looks like the impression of a round breast and nipple.
A metal arm mounted with plain light bulbs in vises stands in what will be the stage space.
A character named …vskij starts us off. With an endoscope, he explores several of his head’s cavities before fully inserting it. At the lower lip of the domed ceiling, above a thin strip of supertitling—the performance language is Italian—a circular projection shows what the endoscope sees. …vskij speaks a dialogue in monologue form, and his vocal cords join and part in front of our eyes. When he laughs, they seem to flutter. We all burst out laughing, too—it’s strangely but undeniably comedic, the way his insides dance. The end of the speech turns from levity to intensity. …vskij yells, and the frantic flaps of flesh inside of him vibrate with foamy saliva, more and more of it.
And when you saw his chariot but appear,
Have you not made an universal shout,
That Tiber trembled underneath her banks,
To hear the replication of your sounds
Made in her concave shores?
Our eyes turn to the inverted breast of the dome.
In this all-male production …vskij’s exposed insides markedly evoke the vaginal. His character name (he is the only one to bear his name, on a little round tag, on his breast) references Stanislavski(j), considered in many Western cultures to be the father of modern acting.
Actors trained in the Stanislavski technique learn to approach characters from the inside out.
Caesar, in a blood-red robe, makes his way slowly, weakly to the fore. He makes us feel his age. Each labored, shuffling footstep is marked by a deep, almost inaudible thud, like the sound of some massive ancient creature moving far, far away. Gingerly he gathers the hem of his robe in his hands, now and then. He has to stop to rest.
But when he reaches his place, he straightens as if electrified. Brought to life by activating his own power, Caesar’s speech does not even need words. Loud, precise sound punctuates each movement of his hands; it’s sound that is so full that it’s somehow tangible, three-dimensional, but it is also baffling to describe. It sounds like nothing natural; it’s the kind of sound created by and for the digital age. It’s the sound of a graphic representation of a word sweeping into place during a PowerPoint presentation. It is as if he is moving his subjects around on a giant touch screen.
We are being dragged, then dropped.
Before he is killed, Caesar pulls a single breast from his robe. It ends on the floor. It is trodden on.
III. MARK ANTONY
Castellucci’s intervention on Shakespeare was first performed in 1997. Other, lengthier iterations of it include a live horse, a sumo wrestler-sized performer in a latex mask, a Brutus who has inhaled helium. Pared down to thirty-five spare minutes, Spared Parts is in essence three speeches. Some parts come and other parts go, but one has been consistent for now nearly two decades: Dalmazio Masini, who has had a laryngectomy, embodies Mark Antony. When he describes Caesar’s wounds as poor poor dumb mouths, our eyes are fixed on the mouthlike wound in his neck, working with the effort of voicing this speech. It’s visually and aurally mesmerizing, and discomfiting.
Castellucci takes the most powerful speech in a play about political rhetoric and renders it unforgettable for reasons irrelevant to its text. It’s as if what politicians say matters less than how they say it.
All performers have left the playing space.
There are no more words.
One by one the vises holding the naked bulbs begin to tighten as if by an unseen hand. One by one they shatter.
After we applaud, we return to the streets. There is a group of people with signs we can’t read. One has a loudspeaker, but her amplified voice projects oddly, bouncing off the surrounding buildings in such a way that we can’t make out what she is saying. Distorted and emptied of meaning, the words she’s speaking vanish.