There is no greater threat to individual freedom than the ascension of a populist “great man” to the republic’s highest office. At least, that’s how the Roman citizens who murder Julius Caesar in Shakespeare’s classic tragedy justify their crime. This theme — fear of tyranny — struck UCSB’s Theater and Dance department chair, Irwin Appel, as unusually relevant back in October of 2019 when he chose Julius Caesar for the 15th anniversary season of the school’s Naked Shakes program, which is taking place now.
October 2019 is now officially a lifetime’s worth of changes ago, and, in response, the project has continued to evolve. First the pandemic hit, suspending traditional live theater performances indefinitely. Just weeks after the faculty and students at UCSB succeeded in shifting to a new production environment on Zoom, police in Minneapolis killed George Floyd, sparking massive global protests against American racism. Julius Caesar, while still a great foundation, no longer seemed enough.
Thus was born Immortal Longings, an epic two-part braiding of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar with his Antony and Cleopatra. The title, a phrase spoken by Cleopatra, conjures the desire to love and be loved endlessly, but speaking as a despairing leader fatally inscribed in the chaos of world history, who’s to say that’s all that she (or Shakespeare) meant? The production, which Appel characterizes as “full theater-making on Zoom,” can be seen either in two parts on successive nights — Wednesdays and Thursdays, September 2-3 and 8-9, at 6 p.m. — or all at once (with an intermission) on Friday, September 4, beginning at noon.
As with all Naked Shakes productions, Immortal Longings features a diverse cast, with students from the school’s highly regarded theater BFA program appearing alongside students from other majors who chose the course in order to study Shakespeare in the best way possible — by appearing in one of the plays. To register for this performance, see tinyurl.com/nakedshakes.
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