When a group of inmates, confined to a mental asylum, attempt to mount a musical production of the story of Caligula, mayhem ensues in the form of a comical Greek tragedy. The inmates “real” lives parallel and intermingle in unexpected ways with the lives of the characters they portray. This nouvelle musical is passionate, provocative, insane and yet -funny!
A Note from the Writer
As I see it, the job of a playwright is to hold up a mirror to society and comment upon it. Over the last decade I have noticed a shift in the political climate. I have seen the slow erosion of our personal liberties inflicted by Homeland Security. I have watched TSA agents abuse their power. I have listened to Fox News spew hate and intolerance. I have seen the demise of Labor Unions. I have watched the extreme Right take over the Republican Party. I looked into my artistic mirror and knew I had to write a piece about what I saw as the rise of a new modern FASCISM.
My musical began by researching the 1930’s and 1940’s. I wanted to parallel that era with today’s political climate. As a writer who adapts plays and novels into musicals, I looked for stories and plays that reflected the rise of Fascism. In my search I came across the French playwright and novelist Albert Camus. Camus witnessed firsthand the rise of Fascism in Europe in the 1930’s and commented on it in his play “Caligula”. He used the Ancient Roman dictatorship as a metaphor for European Fascism. After reading the play, I had that “aha!” moment, and knew this had to be my next musical.
Initially, I did an adaptation that was 100% faithful to the Camus play. It had an enormous cast, dozens of chorus boys, and eight lavish sets. After several readings I discovered that it was “too big” to be produced. Producers these days want small cast shows with one or two sets. And so my musical sat on my desk gathering dust. Meanwhile the Tea party came into power, the great recession hit, and I knew I had to do something with my musical.
I began by editing. The Camus play used a unit set — so away went seven lavish sets. I cut the chorus boys, and all of all the smaller character roles. I cut most of the dialogue and added a few more songs. What had been an old fashioned traditional musical had morphed into what I thought might be a modern Rock Opera. My editing job had left me with a very short musical. I did some extra research on the life of Caligula, and added enough back-stories to make it a 90 min. musical.
I knew early on that I did not want to set my show in Ancient Rome. I was torn between setting it in 1930’s Europe or in Modern day. Because Caligula was an insane Emperor, the idea of setting it in a mental institution crossed my mind. My composer suggested I set it in a 1930’s mental hospital in Europe. He suggested I write a shell around the play that would establish the institution. I liked the idea and took it one step further. I decided to make it a modern day mental hospital where the patients were putting on a production of Caligula that they had set in the 1930’s, with unexpected results. For me the mental hospital would represent the insanity of modern Fascism.
This new addition, of course, meant more songs and more characters. I had to be careful not to get “too big” again. I combined several of the main characters, and assigned each patient to his or her role according to their own particular mental aberration. During the casting process, I combined a few more roles and added a couple more songs to entice talent. The show was once again back to full length but leaner and meaner than before.
As an artist I think it is just as important to look back on history, as it is to look at the present. Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. If we remain indifferent to our current political environment, we will end up in a yet far worse situation than the 1930’s in Europe — and that would indeed be insane!
A Note from the Composer
Conceiving the musical language for “I, CALIGULA, An Insanity Musical”, required me to invent a unique emotional perspective on the overall message, content and dramatic intent of Kai’s script. The musical genre and technique needed to reveal not only the storyline, but also the “many mirrors” aspect of the “play within a play – within yet another play! ”. So, how would I support the dramatic action in each moment of the plot, emphasizing each character’s emotions and motivations, while still giving an overall feeling of parody on the “human condition”, reflecting the political insanity of ancient times and modern times simultaneously?
From the point of view of the lunatic asylum inmates, their world is as real as any when they cooperate in presenting a musical play about an “emperor gone wild”, Their enslavement to Caligula-the-actor’s dangerous whims, as well as The Director’s vain quest for control, inspired me to bring a feeling of ancient modal music (or how we imagine that music to have sounded) into contemporary times. Knowing that the patients present their play in the 1930’s also gave me the freedom to write a couple of the songs in that style, when the characters are “outside” the inner shells of the play. The ultimate eclectic musical language that evolved organically is unique, but may remind the listener of the extravagant and melodramatic scores for the great epic Italian films by directors such as Fellini and Visconti.