Giulio Cesare | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Giulio Cesare

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Shakespeare's Julius Caesar is a popular item this election year: Strawdog Theatre Company performed the play in September and October, and Chicago Shakespeare Theater opens its version next month. Admirers of the extreme avant-garde, meanwhile, will want to take note of Giulio Cesare, a controversial, visually striking, often bizarre deconstructionist adaptation that Italy's Societas Raffaelo Sanzio (named after the Renaissance master painter Raphael) brings to town this weekend as part of a monthlong residency at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Director Romeo Castellucci focuses on image rather than text (what remains of the script is in Italian, with occasional English supertitles), and his production abounds with disturbing, dreamlike tableaux. Ancient Rome is an industrial wasteland illuminated by flickering fluorescent lights, exploding lightbulbs, and the occasional glowing crucifix floating in the air. Many of the actors, often partly or fully nude, are either obese or anorexically gaunt. One performer speaks into an endoscope that projects a video close-up of his larynx, while Antony has no larynx at all: he croaks the famous funeral oration standing on a pedestal, air hissing audibly through the scar in his neck. Recalling the films of Fellini and Pasolini, Giulio Cesare manages to be both grotesque and reverential; it makes other experimental stagings of Shakespeare that have played Chicago--such as Peter Brook's minimalist The Tragedy of Hamlet and Peter Sellars's Court TV-style The Merchant of Venice--look like Disney cartoons. Museum of Contemporary Art, theater, 220 E. Chicago, 312-397-4010. November 8-10: Friday-Saturday, 8 PM; Sunday, 7 PM. $22. Friday's performance is followed by a discussion with Castellucci and Chicago theater producer Bernard Sahlins.

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