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latinx theatre, latinx plays, latinx Shakespeares, Latin American Shakespeare, Latin American Shakespeares

 

Julio Cesar

Written by John Briggs and R.H. Deschamps

Directed by John Briggs

Florida Shakespeare Festival

Miami, FL

 

Julio Cesar (1986)

 

 

John Briggs’s Julio Cesar was produced at Florida Shakespeare in 1986 and set in the future year of 1994 and in the Republic of Corba, a fictional Latin American country. Briggs, whose Shogun Macbeth had just wrapped in Dallas and was moving to Broadway for what would be a successful run, had just made the transition from directing Shakespeare traditionally to adapting and modernizing it. 

 

The soothsayer was changed to a Santera, played by Haitian-born Claudia Robinson. [1] “As Cesar's death drew nearer, the Santera became more agitated, her language more

hermetic. She had twice warned Cesar to beware the Ides of March, first in Spanish, then

in English. When it became apparent that Cesar would disregard all portents and premonitions, she retreated into the recesses of archaic Yoruba, a sealed language that comes as close as any to accents yet unknown.”[2]

 

Briggs said his work was to infuse the religion of Cuba, to make the political scene completely relevant to what is happening.  All the other things he did with script are what he always does – making it relevant to American theatre.[3] On reviewer noted, “Cal Winn's Cesar qua Fidel Castro, heavily bearded, in army fatigues, a cigar held characteristically between forefinger and thumb. But the focus of the production was not so much on character as on place.”[4] As Michael L. Greenwald notes, “To establish the immediacy of the play’s politics, images of pre-revolutionary Cuba, El Salvador, and Nicaragua were projected onto the set as the audience assembled; the slide show was accompanied by Latin music.[5]

 

Most of the actors were from southern Florida and bilingual. Spanish (translations by Robert DeShawn) was used for secondary and tertiary characters in some places throughout. Spanish was also used to keep sense of time and place. For example, characters would run in to deliver a message in Spanish, and then the characters talk about it. Spanish kept the reality of where they were without imposing on bigger scenes.[6]

Briggs notes that the audience was screaming “Viva la Cuba!” at end of the first act after the bullet shot.  Other people from Latinx community were pro-Cuba, so there was almost a riot.[7] Likewise, Soothsayer (Briggs created a scene) imposed a ritual when the character was supposed to be delivering a speech. Briggs said about twenty-five people got up and left the theater; “she was doing a real ritual – calling the god of war into being.” [8]  In Latinx Shakespeares, I note that there were real-life consequences because of the production. A planned publicity stunt in Little Havana with the actor playing Castro/Cesar in costume and makeup was cancelled due to concerns for his life.[9]

 

The venue was an Italian villa at Viscaya that was dismantled and brought to Miami.  They performed on the Casino mound, with the Casino as a backdrop.  The Spanish architecture of South America lends itself to this look and feel, so the visual aesthetic cohered. They sat 400-500 people on chairs in the villa.

 

Briggs adapted a number of other Shakespeare plays, including the Hamlet-inspired The Godfather of Brooklyn, The Taming of the Shrew-inspired Crazy Love, The Cowboy Comedy of Errors, Ilyria, and Shogun Macbeth. He was described as “the Peter Sellars of the South, a director who toys with cadavers of renowned scripts the way a certain Dr. Frankenstein tinkered with body parts.”[10] For more on Briggs, see http://www.musicalbard.com/

 

 

 

For detailed performance reviews of Julio Cesar, see Endel and Greenwald.

 

 

 

CARLA DELLA GATTA

AUGUST 2022

 

[1] Christine Arnold, “Julio Cesar Opens,” The Miami Herald, 1 Mar 1986. 6C.

[2] Peggy Goodman Endel, “Julio Cesar, et al.: The 1986 Florida Shakespeare Festival,” Shakespeare Quarterly, Vol. 38, No. 2 (Summer 1987), 214-217, 216.

[3] John Briggs, Phone Interview. 8 Feb 2013.

[4] Endel, 215.

[5] Michael L. Greenwald, “Multicultural and Regendered Romans: Julius Caesar in North America, 1969-2000,” Julius Caesar: New Critical Essays, Ed. Horst Zander, New York: Routledge, 2005, 319-332. 321.

[6] Briggs. Also, the play was advertised in the Spanish version of the Miami Herald

[7] Briggs.

[8] Briggs.

[9] Carla Della Gatta, Latinx Shakespeares: Staging US Intracultural Theater, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2023. 185, fn 73.

[10] Jack Zink, “Bard’s Shrew Takes a Slapstick Turn,” Sun Sentinel, 28 Oct 1994. Accessed 13 Oct 2013.

Image courtesy of John R. Briggs
Julio Cesar by John Briggs and RH Deschamps
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