March 16th, 2014

1939 World's Fair

Stab stab stabbity stab, speech speech speech speech speech

Alternate title for Pauline Kael fans: Speech Speech Stab Stab

Sonya and I went into Union Square today and we ate donuts the size of two fists and I drank some coffee in a cup the size of um I don't know which body part and then, this being the Ides of March and all, we watched Julius Caesar get got outside the Roman Senate (which, I never knew, was conveniently located near the big parking lot in Union Square).

This is why I like this town.

The Somerville Arts Council helped put it up with a group of young actors who ran the thing, and some high school Latin clubs got into it as well, selling Authentic Roman Dishes what didn't involve Garum or Silphium, the latter being a fennel-like plant so delicious that the Romans grew it unsustainably to extinction much like what we may be doing to chocolate now, and the former being a fermented fish sauce so delicious that they eventually forgot the recipe.

The event was part street fair with food stalls and a soothsayer and a caricature artist, and part Shakespearean theatre-in-the-very-round. Milling around the crowd were the principals including Caesar, Marc Antony, Brutus, Cassius, Casca, Cinna, the Professor and Mary Ann, all of 'em. At appointed times during the festivities (which included a Roman numeral spelling bee and chariot races with pedicabs) little Shakespearean scenes would flare up, though not without modern ad-libbing because. Scenes happened simultaneously; while Caesar was having a chat with a soothsayer in one booth, Cassius and Cinna hung out in another booth marked "SECRET CLUBHOUSE - NO EMPERORS ALLOWED". I did mention things got a little silly, didn't I? Cassius tried enforcing a secret clubhouse password (Cinna: "C'mon, you know who I am") and then read some of the forged letters he had been writing to sway Brutus over to the conspirators' side. Cassius had some good letter-writing ideas, including "Help us, Brutus, you're our only hope" and others of similar reference which I don't believe were in the original text, unless they fell out of a folio or something when nobody was looking.

The crowd played the part of the Citizens of Rome and were encouraged to hail or curse Caesar, depending on who was doing the cheerleading. There were free toga-tying lessons and, much like mythical collegiate toga parties, many people showed up in sheets of their own. One kid showed up in a Star Wars sheet toga. Fifty points for that. The kids really took to this, which was awesome: when the crowd was exhorted to air their grievances against ol' Gaius Julius, one kid (and I'm betting it was Star Wars Toga Kid, cause he seemed to be in the middle of everything) hollered out "Caesar stole my lunch money!"

Amidst the foreshadowing and secret plotting was the Dogs of War costume contest, which is pretty much what you'd expect right down to someone crying havoc to start it off. One cat entered the contest and, after being extracted from its carrier and plopped down on the table in front of Caesar, the conspirator-judges and the crowd, decided to withdraw its entry and head back to the carrier. Our hosts, good improv minds all, then hailed it as an animal so ferocious they could not afford to let it loose a second time for further viewing. The ferocious cat lost out to Ella, a pug who came dressed in the pelts of her enemies. I think I saw some squirrel and maybe some tabby.

Finally, after a truncated trivia contest (looks like they decided perhaps they didn't have time for three rounds of numerous five-part questions each) the toga wearers proceeded to walk down a tiny stretch of Somerville Ave from in front of the Precinct bar (which served, I suppose, as the Forum) to the aforementioned parking lot Senate. The sun disappeared behind the only dark clouds to come our way that afternoon. As the crowd was again encouraged to petition Caesar as he walked by, up came Cimber, kiss kiss went Brutus, and stab stab stabbity stab went the assassins, who had covertly passed around a bowl of red Karo syrup for blood-leaving purposes. It began to rain during the murder, and only during the murder, all the better to evoke sympathy from the gods--I can't quite credit the Somerville Arts Council for this kind of timing. Star Wars Toga Kid and several other kids then implicated themselves in the murder by getting ahold of the syrup bowl and just painting the hell out of G.J.C., rubbing it in his hair, even, well after the original conspirators had finished their deeds. It was awesome, real vengeance for that missing lunch money all right. Caesar tried his best to stay composed for his Et tu, Brute? Then fall Caesar but I'm willing to bet that once he fell face-down, he quietly giggled like hell, as you do when you're trying desperately not to corpse as a corpse. This is why I like this town.

It was a good afternoon out in spite of several personal neuroses. After the murder we good citizens of Rome reconvened at the Forum where Brutus and Mark Antony made their speeches in front of a discarded Karo-ed toga. At this point Sonya and I believed we had a bus to catch so we listened from the periphery. With but one mic for amplification against a loud, crowded road often frequented by siren-howling ambulances or police cars, the style of speech was of the "To be emotional, JUST BE LOUDER" school so we heard most of what folks were saying. The MBTA defied our belief, the 87 was mercilessly late in the midst of gorgeous late afternoon traffic, and we boarded the bus just as the event was wrapping up. As the bus pulled away I caught a glimpse of a grinning Mark Antony, now in his street clothes, holding and scritching one of the Dogs of War.