A Bloody Julius Caesar Stirs Up a Hornet’s Nest

I took my Girls Write Now mentee Laura to go see Julius Caesar last Friday at Shakespeare in the Park in Central Park. We had been planning it for a while and postponed to later in the week so we had nicer weather. I’m glad I charged and packed my computer because we really wanted to tape our exit interview we had planned now that she’s graduating and going on to college in the fall. I had come up with ten questions for Laura, and she ad-libbed questions for me. I was surprised that it lasted longer than an hour, but we had some meaty questions, like “What do you think is going to happen politically in the next five years?” and “What’s going to happen to art in the current political climate?” We were both optimistic about the future and had no idea how portentous our questions and ideas were.

We took turns going to the restroom while the other saved our spot in line, and then right before they started handing out tickets, I went to the snack bar area and got us two hot dogs. The line started moving, and after the first glut of tickets was gone, Laura and I were at the head of the line with just one woman in front of us. A man came by and handed the woman his extra ticket after his friend was a no show, so then Laura and I were at the head of the line. The second round of tickets came by, and the Shakespeare in the Park employee sorted them into singles and pairs and gave us our tickets. We were so surprised to find ourselves in the front row almost center stage—the best tickets in the house. Laura was exuberant, hopping up and down. “I’ve never been in the front row anywhere!”

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The play was tremendous. Whenever I read Julius Caesar while editing our Grade 10 textbooks at Holt, Rinehart and Winston, I enjoyed it, but when I saw it performed at BAM (the first time I’d ever seen it live), I didn’t really like it. Might have been the nosebleed seats we had—the absolute last row in the theater. This Julius Caesar, though, was fabulous. When we sat down, I saw people miling about onstage, looking at scaffolding, like what we have in New York when buildings are undergoing construction. Some had programs in their hands, and they were putting Post-it notes on the scaffolding, similar to what happened in Union Square station after Trump was elected and everybody was so upset. There was a wall that became an entire passageway, where everybody started writing Post-it notes about how upset they were about the election and it became a thing.

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I thought the people were actual audience members, so I told Laura, “Go on up there, hon, and write something. Put your wish down.” Laura said, “No, I don’t think I should,” and usually she’s so bold. Thank God she didn’t. They were frigging actors, and later, they played the part of the disgruntled public.

It was a clever staging. It’s set in modern times, and Caesar is portrayed as a Trumpian character; Calpurnia as Melania, with an Eastern European accent; and Marc Antony was portrayed as a woman with a “Go USA!” attitude, leggings, and an Aw, shucks! Midwestern accent. I’m guessing she’s supposed to correlate to Mike Pence. It worked really well and was riveting for the first three acts, but the play kind of lost momentum in the last two acts. I still loved it. How they handled the crowd scenes was brilliant and unexpected, and Laura and I craned our heads, trying to catch the rabble-rousers who sprang up in the audience. It felt so interactive, like the demonstrations going on now during this presidency. Some people walked out—about four that I could see—and I remember thinking it was because of the controversial staging decisions or maybe because of the chairs. They are pretty uncomfortable. Then I saw the headlines the next day.

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We still don’t have an answer in this play about what is going to happen to us, much like in J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, but it gives us plenty to think about. We just have to be aware and flexible, roll with the punches, and never give up hope. I think of that old saying, “May you live in interesting times.” I do. I most definitely do. And I’m grateful for Shakespeare in the Park.

Top Five Horror Movies Featuring Old People

My Girls Write Now mentee hates horror movies, but she likes to make sure I’m keeping up on mine. A few months ago, Danni and I were talking on the phone about writing projects, but then we got to horror movies and she wanted to know if I was excited to see Cabin in the Woods and The Raven. At the time I hadn’t even heard of them, so she e-mailed me the trailers; then she asked me, “Why are so many horror movies about teenagers?” I gave her what I’ve been told so many times—that one of the scary things about being a teenager is having your body change so dramatically in such a short amount of time and a horror movie mimics or shows what a teen might be feeling inside and outside. Then I told her that not all horror movies are about teenagers, and I would make her a list of some. So here it is: my top five list of horror movies featuring old people.

1. CRONOS: This one’s got a special place in my heart since it was my first horror magazine assignment. I was supposed to be reporting on a cult movie Raw Meat, but the magazine I was working for couldn’t get any art from the movie. Thankfully, Guillermo del Toro was introducing Raw Meat as an inspiration for his work, and he talked quite a bit about Hellboy, which was in preproduction at the time, and that ended up being my first horror movie article. At this event, del Toro showed his first full-length feature Cronos about a vampiric device created in the Middle Ages that gives users eternal life. An elderly antique dealer stumbles upon it and is menaced by the nephew of a dying man who will stop at nothing to get his hands on it. Ron Perlman plays the nephew, and this movie is the beginning of the artist-muse relationship shared by Guillermo del Toro and Ron Perlman. It gets extra points for the most innovative use of a toy box that I’ve ever seen.

2. ROSEMARY’S BABY: Though Rosemary (Mia Farrow) is barely out of her teens in this movie, I chose this one because of the evil old people that surround her, never letting her make a move without commenting on it. Once Rosemary and her husband move into their dream apartment at the Bramford, the elderly in the building start to take an unusual interest in her. At a critical point in Rosemary’s pregnancy, which has been accompanied by constant pain, she decides to throw a dinner party and tells her husband, “I’m having a party for our old…I mean our young friends—Minnie and Roman are not invited. Neither is Laura-Louise nor is Dr. Sapirstein. It’s going to be a very special party. You have to be under sixty to get in.”

3. ALIEN: I think this is such a groundbreaking movie, and since it came out in 1979, not many other movies have been able to touch it. It starts out slow, building up the tension. We have a group of workers out in space starting their mission: They wake up, get dressed, eat a little something, drink coffee. Then they get their assignment, but it’s work—a little boring but something they have to do. First up, go check out this alien spaceship. They do, and worker Kane (John Hurt) provides the first scare of the movie with his alien rape from a pod, which leads to one of the scariest movie moments ever: the Alien birth scene. Probably the most brilliant part of this movie, though, is casting thirty-year-old Sigourney Weaver as Ripley. It was her first major film role, and she tore it up.

4. DAWN OF THE DEAD: While I love George Romero’s original Dawn of the Dead, I prefer the 2004 remake because U.S. shopping habits have changed so much and that is the main point of the movie. After flesh-eating zombies have taken over the world, a few surviving humans hole up in a mall, which is perfect for their needs. There’s food, water, furniture, supplies, and most importantly, security. Zombies, too, are attracted to the mall, remembering it as a place of importance. I love the casting of nurse Ana (Sarah Polley); it’s always important to have a medical authority in a zombie apocalypse who can tell you exactly what’s going on. And Ving Rhames as tough guy Kenneth is a joy to watch. I enjoy apocalypse movies so much because you have a large cast representing the general population and how it reacts after Earth is blighted by a natural or “unnatural” disaster.

5. THE THING: This is such a scary movie, and I’m glad I didn’t see it until my twenties. My friend’s teenage daughter was permanently traumatized after seeing this one at a tender age. It starts brilliantly, a beautiful panning shot of mountains, white, and ice and endless expanses of it. You know these characters, working guys, are out in the middle of nowhere and nobody’s around to help them. A helicopter mercilessly chases a beautiful husky dog, taking shots at it. When the copter crashes, you’re glad because these guys were trying to shoot a beautiful dog, but later in the kennel, all hell breaks loose. I knew a few guys in college who modeled themselves after the main character MacReady (Kurt Russell)—to the point where they would only drink J & B whiskey. I’m still not sure if that was deliberate product placement or not. Knowing John Carpenter, probably not.

Looking back on this list, I see that all the movies have to do with body horrors—using a vampire device to stay young, giving birth to aliens or a devil, or fighting off dead people who want to eat you. So maybe there is some truth to teenage horror movies being rooted in that scary thing known as puberty. Anything I’ve left off the list? What are some other horror movies with older people that should be included?