Essential Arts & Culture: About Julius Caesar, the Ojai Music Festival, inequity and tower design

Politics and Shakespeare. The sounds of Ojai. How design and inequity played out in a London fire. I’m Carolina A. Miranda, staff writer at the Los Angeles Times, with the week’s top culture stories:

So vile a thing?

The New York production of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” with a Donald Trump-like Caesar being assassinated ignited a media firestorm this week. Delta and Bank of America withdrew their support. The National Endowment for the Arts quickly issued a statement they didn’t fund the work. And Twitter, as Twitter is wont to do, went full Chicken Little. Los Angeles Times

Director Oskar Eustis says the staging is “an anxiety nightmare parable about our current state, and that’s why it looks the way it looks.” New York Times

Writer Rebecca Mead defends the work, saying it “does not celebrate the manner of Caesar’s death but rather warns against it.” New Yorker

But perhaps the most pointed response comes from Ron Janoff, of the New York Classical Club, who says that Trump is less Caesar and more Oedipus. Never mess with a classicist. New York Times

Portrait of the caesar as a young man

Since too much Caesar is never enough, Times contributor John Rockwell takes a look at the history of Lou Harrison’s opera “Young Caesar,” performed this week at Disney Hall. The opera was a boundary breaker, he writes, “complete with a love affair between the teenage Julius Caesar, as an emissary from Rome, and Nicomedes, the king of distant Bithynia … It even had a gay orgy, depicted with puppets.” Los Angeles Times

Times classical music critic Mark Swed reviews the production, directed Yuval Sharon. He writes: “Sharon, in conjunction with his opera company, the Industry, mounted a fanciful, visually stunning, endearingly mercurial, marginally risqué, momentarily over-the-top and ultimately touching production.” Los Angeles Times

Ojai outing

Pianist Vijay Iyer, who is curating this year’s Ojai Music Festival, has given the classical music fest a jazzier sound. But Times jazz critic Chris Barton says it’s best to resist the temptation to sum it up as “Ojai goes jazz.” “His music and the festival at large was much harder to pin down and gratefully struck a considerable blow against the genre labels that Iyer and so many artists before him have vigorously resisted,” he writes. Los Angeles Times

Mark Swed concurs — writing that “codification only gets in the way.” He adds: “Iyer could be heard in dialogue not only with jazz or Indian musicians but also with Mozart and Stravinsky.” Los Angeles Times

In a separate review, Swed looks at Iyer’s kick-off performance. Los Angeles Times

Essential Tonys wrap-up

Times theater critic Charles McNulty says this year’s Tony Awards spread the love around. “In a ceremony that was defiantly clubbish,” he writes, “the Tonys accepted the reality of a post-‘Hamilton’ hangover and took pride in a Broadway year in which fine work was accomplished even if not many people watching across the country could tell you much about what was being feted.”

Still, some winners were bigger than others, with “Dear Evan Hansen” receiving the trophy for best musical, while the show’s star, L.A. native Ben Platt, won for lead actor. Los Angeles Times

The Times’ Steven Zeitchik also reported on the show, which included an orchestra that tried to play off Bette Midler. (“Shut that crap off,” was her response.) Los Angeles Times

And the Times’ Daryl H. Miller looks at the short but distinguished career of the 23-year-old Platt, who attended Harvard-Westlake School in Studio City. Los Angeles Times

At the theater

This week, the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts opened Alexi Kaye’s “The Pride,” a drama about a complex love triangle that bounces back and forth between 1958 and 2008. The Times’ Deborah Vankin sat down with actor Neal Bledsoe to talk about acting, the play’s political context and his favorite L.A. haunts. Los Angeles Times

In his review, Times’ Daryl H. Miller reports that “The Pride” can be “heavy-handed,” but there are some fine performances, not to mention the play’s overall exhortation “to live authentically and never let anyone cause you to regress.” Los Angeles Times

Plus, Charles McNulty took in British dramatist Nick Payne’s “Constellations” at the Geffen Playhouse, a romantic comedy about astrophysicists that delves into the nature of time and reality. The “Rashomon”-style storytelling may strike some as “vexing,” writes McNulty, but “what sets the work apart is its emotional accessibility.” Los Angeles Times

At ‘Home’ at LACMA

The Pacific Standard Time: Los Angeles / Latin America series of exhibitions officially kicks off this fall. But an early outlier debuted at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art this week and it has set the bar high for the rest of the series. “Home — So Different, So Appealing” looks at the ways in which artists all over the continent use the domestic to explore socio-political issues. (This includes a scale replica of the Unabomber cabin painted in Martha Stewart colors.) I report on how the show rethinks ideas about how Latino and Latin American artists are presented. Los Angeles Times

Devastating fire

A devastating fire in an apartment tower in London has raised issues of inequity in public housing and design in one of the world’s richest cities. As of Friday, at least 30 people were known to have died in the fire, which may have begun in a faulty refrigerator and turned into an inferno, according to some theories, when the building’s exterior cladding ignited. Los Angeles Times

The cladding was reportedly added to Grenfell Tower to improve its appearance for the benefit of wealthy residents living nearby. The Independent

Artist Khadija Saye, who currently has work on display at the Venice Biennale, perished in the Grenfell blaze. Channel 4, The Independent

Aluminum composite panels were also at the heart of a fiery skyscraper fire in Dubai last year. At the time, Ian Volner asked if U.S. buildings were at risk. New York

Building super tall

All of this makes it a good week in which to explore the arms race of super tall architecture in New York City. Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne paid a visit to architect Rafael Viñoly’s new 92-story Manhattan condo tower. “It is concentrated wealth rendered in Spartan terms,” he writes, “a Sol LeWitt sculpture holding stacked condos for billionaires.” But, hey, the picture windows are amaze. Los Angeles Times

Must-see: Deconstructing blackface

In his installation “Until, Until, Until…” at Susan Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, L.A. artist Edgar Arceneaux tackles a controversial ‘80s performance by Ben Vereen that involved blackface. (I wrote about the genesis of this piece in 2015.) Contributing reviewer Sharon Mizota says the work’s beauty and power lies in the ways in which it implicates the viewer — in “its ability not only to excavate the traumas and travesties of blackface, but to locate them in the fears and desires of the audience, us.” Los Angeles Times

A poignant quartet

In 1941, French composer Olivier Messiaen debuted a piece of chamber music in a Nazi POW camp, where he was being held as a prisoner. Now Los Angeles artist Susan Silton is organizing an experimental production of “Quartet for the End of Time” that will feature all women. Los Angeles Times

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