Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” is an unapologetic piece of theater that depicts the infamous Roman commander’s demise at the hands of his own people. As with all of Shakespeare’s plays, it has been endlessly analyzed and dissected over the centuries. This October, the tragedy will play out once again on stage as the second Yale Dramatic Association performance of the semester for all of the Yale and New Haven community to witness. Carrie Mannino ’20, a staff reporter for the News, and Aaron Hwang ’18 are the dramatic duo behind the production, and their “Caesar” tells a different story than what we might be used to. They are asking a question that has likely not been asked before: What would happen if Caesar was a woman?
Mannino, the director, envisions a play that resonates with the current political climate. When writing the proposal for the play last Spring, she says that she wanted to stage something that was relatable given the aftermath of the election. “I wanted to make it even more relevant,” she added. Then, over the summer she heard about a version of “Julius Caesar” played by Shakespeare in the Park in NYC where Caesar was treated as Trump. Mannino didn’t agree with this choice, however it inspired her to call up Hwang, the producer, over the summer and propose to make Caesar a woman.
“After seeing how Hillary Clinton was treated and how she was taken down, it really reminded me of what happens to Caesar,” she says. “Caesar is taken down because he is ambitious, but his actions don’t really show that he is ambitious: He doesn’t really want the crown. It is just that the senators think he might become ambitious, which is very similar to how women in politics are treated.”
Mannino admits to seeing direct parallels between the play and the events of last year’s election. She told WKND that she views Brutus as similar to people who voted for third party candidates like Jill Stein and Gary Johnson. Mannino sees Brutus as a tragically misguided hero who inadvertently destroys democracy by being unwilling to settle for an imperfect candidate.
As compelling as this interpretation might sound, Hwang is quick to add that “Julius Caesar” isn’t going to be specifically about Hillary Clinton. Instead, it is meant to be a commentary on women in power everywhere.
Their take on the topic is also quite well-received by the newly selected cast. Zeb Mehring ’19, who is playing Cassius, an enemy of Caesar’s, and Anelisa Fergus ’19, Caesar herself, are very supportive of gender bending, especially in a play that is traditionally male-dominated, both in character and tone.
Mehring remarks that his character Cassius often insults Caesar by attacking his manhood and claiming that “He has made Rome womanish.” Such lines take on a very different context with Mannino’s casting decision.
For Fergus, getting into the role of Caesar brings back her own experience with having authority as the rush manager of the New Blue and dealing with people who were critical of her decisions.
“Caesar, as a woman, is just trying to do her job. There are views that she is too ambitious.” Fergus tells of her approach to her character.
She also feels that the play is painting Caesar as a more of a sympathetic character, “which is honestly how I feel about the historical Caesar.” Fergus adds, “I never felt that Caesar was too ambitious or power hungry. Because you know he was just a war hero who was like you know what they are not doing a good job, so we are going to bring Rome back up. He hasn’t just on a whim decided to take over Rome, he has past experience leading an army.”
Yet ultimately both Mehring and Fergus agree that it is not about whether Caesar is completely good or completely bad.
In Mehring’s words, “Part of the experience we want to leave the audience with is that haunted feeling of ‘Could that happen to me? Could I be somebody attacking somebody without realizing that they don’t deserve it or whether there are other factors I should be considering?’”.
To possibly find answers to these uncomfortable questions catch Julius Caesar Oct. 12–14 at the Iseman Theater.
Contact Eren Kafadar at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Correction, Sept. 16: An earlier version of this article did not refer to the Dramat by its full name — the Yale Dramatic Association — on first reference.