One has to wonder where Eyad Houssami ’07 gets his ideas.
In his newest undertaking, “Caligula” by Albert Camus, Houssami not only directed but also created a “practical translation.” Unsatisfied with existing English versions, Houssami sought to conceive Camus anew, and what results is a visually stunning piece of theater.
“Caligula” tells the story of a Roman emperor who uses his power to the utmost, seeking to become a god, and the people around him who fear what this display of unlimited power will do to them and the empire.
The most striking aspect of Houssami’s conceptualization of the show is the use of two actors (Stefano Theodoli-Braschi ’07 and Alexander Borinsky ’08) to play the part of the crazed emperor — two Caligulae on stage working towards the same purpose. The breathtaking effect strengthens the emperor’s power by allowing him to act upon multiple people at once.
Yet while it is aesthetically powerful, it is not clear how much it develops the piece dramatically. True, theatrically it adds to his hold over the others on stage, but it is unclear what each of the emperors represent. One wants to see that each Caligula represents something different, a public and private face, a voice of guilt and a voice of unabashed apathy, yet this does not come through. Both play the emperor well, but it is impossible to separate the two and understand why they share and split lines.
But the Caligulae were not the show’s only highlight. Brian Earp ’09 as Scipio, Caligula’s old friend and perhaps lover, brought a warmth to the piece that was missing elsewhere. Whereas another actor might play him as whiny and scorned, Earp plays Scipio with a tenderness that nearly snaps Caligula back into sanity. The other lead actors, especially Tara Rodman ’07, were also exceptional.
The show’s main weakness lies with the supporting characters, the senators. Destruction threatens them at every turn thanks to their mad emperor, but they fail to demand compassion from the audience. Their plight and the terror of Caligula would be much greater if it actually mattered to the audience whether these men and women were going to die. Instead, they come off as petulant children who face all-too-real problems.
The music supplied by a live band and written by Dan Kluger ’07 greatly helped underscore Caligula’s madness and the unease of those around him. In the second act, a steady oompah-pah can be heard, as if a calliope were announcing the arrival of the senate, which Caligula transforms into a circus.
Still, the rest of the audio-visual elements of the show seemed somewhat forced. While the live video incorporated into the play worked well, the prerecorded sound and video seemed a bit unnecessary, as did some other attempts at creating an entirely incorporated theatrical experience.
With a beautiful set by Alice Tai ’08 and strong direction by Houssami, “Caligula” is definitely worth seeing. Advertisements for the show say “Created by Eyad Houssami, Jess Heyman, Dan Kluger,” and it is no understatement. This new adaptation — not a mere translation — is bold, well acted, well-designed and leaves the audience wondering what other ideas Eyad Houssami has lurking around in his head.