There are countless ways of essaying the English language's greatest playwright, William Shakespeare. Arguably though, few do it more inventively — make that re-inventively — than the directors, writers, staging conceptualists and actors behind FringeArt's 2016 most divisive looks at the Bard: Romeo Castellucci's "Julius Caesar. Spared Parts" and Brett Bailey's "Macbeth."
Each director/writer with their own acting companies (Castellucci's Societas Raffaello Sanzio and Bailey's Third World Bunfight) see Shakespeare with fresh eyes and ears, to say nothing of a voice that's radical and experimental.
FringeArts boss Nick Stuccio is friendly with Castellucci and brought other challenging — even blasphemous — works from the Italian director to Philly's Fringe such as 2013's feces-and-blood-stained "On the Concept of the Face Regarding the Son of God" and its look at end-of-life issues.
"My favorite Italian man, whose work we love, has done it again with an approach, well, he riffs on Shakespearian tragedy and nobody does tragedy like Castellucci," says Stuccio, who goes on to discuss the boldest of the director's concepts for "Julius Caesar. Spared Parts." Considering the Shakespeare play's most powerful moment — when Marc Antony delivers the seminal funeral speech after the murder of his friend and mentor Julius Caesar — Castelucci does the most daring thing: He gives the speech to an actor with no vocal chords, one who had larynx removed due to cancer and must speak through a hole in his throat. "Leave it to Castelluci to entrust the most powerful speech in all of theater history to a man who cannot speak," says Stuccio. "Who better to understand Caesar's wounds than a man who can only communicate through a wound?"
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Stuccio mentions that Castelluci's other touches for this "Caesar" involve monkeys, messages on the sides of horses and a character who delivers an everyman's speech with an endoscope up his nose and down his throat whose movement is projected onto a giant screen behind him. "No one ever dared to be that provocative," says Stuccio of Castelluci's "Julius Caesar."
Then there is the co-presentation between Opera Philadelphia and the Third World Bunfight Company of a "Macbeth," first reimagined by the stirring Giuseppe Verdi, and now remixed by director/designer Brett Bailey and composer Fabrizio Cassol to capture the bloodlust of Congolese forests and tyranny in postcolonial Africa.
Verdi's operatic grandeur is given African rhythmic twists and "Macbeth" is turned into a warlord — General Macbeth — with an avaricious, ambitious wife who, together, murder the king and destroy an already crumbling Democratic Republic of Congo. "I wanted to revisit the opera, and I wanted to throw a light on this ‘invisible’ war in Central Africa that has seen the deaths, rapes and displacement of so many millions," says Bailey. "With its theme of political tyranny, 'Macbeth' lent itself to carrying this contemporary story."
Bailey has remixed Shakespeare in his own language/image by setting the drama of "Macbeth" within the context of the wars and the ruthless mineral exploitation by local and multinational powers. "And I have told it using a rich resource of design and performance elements from sub-Saharan Africa," states Bailey. "Because FringeArts believes in it, I made the work to throw a light on the conflict in regions such as the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, and the dependency of consumer society on such situations of exploitation. There is no message. I hope U.S. audiences are moved by the artistry and the voices in the production, and are inspired to look."
If you go:
“Julius Caesar. Spare Parts”
The Navy Yard — Building 694
1701 Langley Ave.
1412 Chestnut St.