No Justice, No Peace.

Violent protest has swept the United States this week. We who are not there can only watch this desperate cry of rage uttered when all other attempts to redress centuries of racism and abuse of power have been brushed aside and there is no way to garner the attention of the oppressor other than taking to the streets, when peaceful protest leads to nothing more consequential than the reminder of the attendant police, that “the march ends at 5. Please return to your homes and don’t block the sidewalks as you exit the park.”

A great play can take on many meanings – all valid, each one growing out of the zeitgeist, the tenor of the times. We were working on the 1599 revival of Julius Caesar for this week, but we have decided to postpone it until next week. Our theatrical team keeps moving around these days as necessity and fortune dictates; and I’m not even sure where anyone is on a daily basis. I’m in Pittsburgh. Terry, Sam Harmet, and MD are in Brooklyn. I think Renata is in Alabama, Joey is in Virginia, Sam Metzger, returning to us from a year in Philadelphia is in Maine. Ken and Hilarie I’m guessing are on Fire Island, Katie and Alex, like car 54, “Where are you.” But for a few recent afternoons, we’re all back together at the virtual, Zoomland, the virtual Irondale Theatre, where it feels to me that we’re not spread half way around the country, but in the same room at South Oxford, occasionally running up to the attic at the theatre to find that perfect hat that Joey wants to wear as one of the three conspirators meeting up with Brutus. And actual sounds of tension and unrest on Atlantic Avenue swirl up the streets around us from the streets below.

CALPURNIA
Besides the things that we have heard and seen,
Recounts most horrid sights seen by the watch.
A lioness hath whelped in the streets,
And graves have yawn'd and yielded up their dead.
Fierce fiery warriors fight upon the clouds

Until Monday there were no visible signs of unrest in Pittsburgh, but then we noticed the police car slowly driving past the mayor’s house across the street from us. We encountered police blockades diverting traffic as we drove home from a walk on the Mexican War Streets, and when I went out looking for a fish for dinner Monday night, I came upon a Whole Foods closed with the windows boarded up as a precautionary measure. Things are still quiet. Our neighbors are as warm and friendly as you’d expect them to be on a warm summer evening, and the talk that passes between us is of the small variety. Michael asks if I have opened the link, he sent to me for a PBS documentary about the historic Pittsburgh Observatory where Samuel Pierpont Langley, the first director, once drew very detailed drawings of sunspots which are still used in astronomical textbooks to this day. Michael’s wife Ann Marie laughs as she explains, in answer to my question, that two squad cars of police had showed up at Mayor Bill’s house Monday night because she had noticed that in his haste to go downtown to make a speech, he had left his front door ajar and that she had accidentally set off the alarm trying to close it.

But on the visceral level, what I see happening daily on the tv, what I’m hearing about right now on Morning Edition as I write this, throws me into depression, and uncertainty.

The night of the fateful meeting at the home of Brutus:
Lions can be heard in the streets.

Is that a literary metaphor or where there really wild animals prowling through Rome. The day will bring the assassination of Julius Caesar and the beginning of a civil war that will bring an end to the Roman republic and usher in an empire in which all powers flow to the emperor.

I am taking immediate presidential action to stop the violence and restore security and safety in America. I am immobilizing all federal resources, civilian and military to stop the rioting and looting, to end the destruction and arson, and to protect the rights of law-abiding Americans, including your second amendment rights.

Where are we headed? I don’t know. This is new. A few months ago, Mac told me he had been watching Ken Burns Viet Nam.

“Don’t you think things were scarier then?”

“They were scary times,” I told him, as I spoke of the assassinations of people who could have led us in a better direction, the obvious lies of Cambodia, the Gulf of Tonkin and the endless “light at the end of the tunnel.” But as we witnessed the dark days of the spring and summer of 1968, the Kent State murders of 1970, we still could still believe, especially if we were young and white and male, and in college, in the enduring promise held out by an America capable of making course correction and capable of fulfilling the promises Lincoln made on that November day at Gettysburg.

“The answers were blowing in the wind” thanks to Abraham, Martin, John and Bobby.

Now, today…. I just don’t know. But I so want it so, That’s why we keep on making plays even when they leave us with a character like this controlling the levers of power.

ANTONY
Now let it work. Mischief, thou art afoot.
Take thou what course thou wilt!

You can’t say Shakespeare, like E.E. Cummings, didn’t warn us.

 

Jim Niesen

irondale

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