I had the chance this summer to go see ‘Shakespeare in the Park’ again. This time the play being staged was ‘Julius Caesar’. We reached there early, but there seemed to be more people this year. After two days of rain, some renaissance-faire genius had got the brilliant idea to dry the grass with hay. Of course, this only left the lawn more soggy and stinky as cooum itself. We navigated our way through the muck and found a spot at the far end and plunked our gear down. Armed with garlic dip and crackers, we got ready for a relaxing evening with the bard.

The play features all the main characters from our history books — from Caesar, to Antony, Brutus and Cicero. We get treated to a tale of shifting allegiances. What’s was puzzling to me was Antony’s actions. Was he a righteous man, who had the welfare of Rome on his mind, or was he just plotting to take over power by defeating the entire cabal of conspirators? The performances by the actors were great, though Antony was a bit lacking in his famous ‘Friends, Romans, countrymen’ speech, in my opinion.

The stage was a minimalist affair, with a roman facade and wide,round steps. There were no scenery changes in between acts, except for some strategically introduced prop benches. The war scenes were pretty impressive, with orange-red lights and the ever-useful smoke machines used to give the illusion of fire. Given our distance from the stage, I could barely see the faces of the actors, but I could hear them very well, thanks to the excellent PA system. Their voices were strident and their intonations confident.

In the days of digital wizardry, it’s refreshing to see live theater that can still evoke emotions without having to resort to CGI. There seems to be no theater left in Tamil Nadu except for Crazy Mohan and similar troupes. If there is, maybe I missed noticing it, given my unenviable geographical distance from Chennai. Gone are the days of P.U.Chinnappa and T.S.Manoharan, which my grandfather and uncle used to recall. Banal megaserials have taken their place, with auditions that probably cover 3 major categories:

a) The demure yet ‘strong’ married woman: (preferably a tam-bram)
Acting Requirements: Ability to shed glycerince tears for at least 15 minutes without stopping.

b) The evil, older woman: (preferably a widow, white saree a plus)
Acting requirements: Fatter and shorter than above-mentioned heroine. Must be able to hold the jadai of heroine and drag her into the street after she takes over her business.

c) The cuckolded husband: (silent, but not strong)
Acting Requirements: Should be able to make weepy faces from behind jail-bars.

Megaserials are the opiate of the tamil masses. I fear for the day reality shows become popular. Or have they already?