CHORUS: I sing of warfare and of a warrior,
a leader of great strength and heroic deeds,
a noble heart whose love for Rome's people
burned as a fire, bright and fierce.
--Nero, lines 1-4, trans. N.G
CHORUS: I sing of warfare and of a warrior,
“All right, make sure there's an amber on the stage when we hit Nero's birth. And make sure to cue up the lightning for Zeus's entrance.”
Jack set down the walkie talkie and sighed. He should be happy. This was probably the smoothest play he had ever managed, the cast was all enthusiastic and hard-working, and the director definitely...
Well, that was it, wasn't it. The director. She wouldn't let them call her anything but her character's name, she was an absolute perfectionist, and her acting—well, she didn't chew the scenery so much as engulf it like a black hole.
No, he should be grateful. They had no bad reviews.
(Because she wouldn't let anyone near the play until opening night.)
Their actors never missed rehearsal.
(Because she wouldn't let them go home.)
They had a full house.
(Half of which were people looking for missing family members).
He couldn't say the script was completely horrible. Strange, certainly? A lost Greek tragedy about a Roman emperor – was that even possible? Still, you don't argue with the person who's directing and starring in her own production. Especially if she's paying you well.
And especially if she's completely nuts.
“The fire department won't let us have actual torches in the building.”
“I think maximum occupancy is less than a thousand.”
“I'm not sure we'll able to hold a chariot race in this small of a space.”
She walks towards him. He instinctively feels the need to bow.
“The lightning is rather unspectacular. This impresses no one.”
Jack develops an instant headache. “We weren't able to use actual electricity on stage.”
“That is unacceptable. I asked for lightning.”
“Yes, we tried our best, but there is no way we could--”
“Then I will have to take care of it.”
A bolt—oh, crap, is that lightning—streaks from somewhere above him. He dives underneath the prop table and covers his head as it crashes onstage.
A few minutes later, he feels the confidence to uncurl himself from the fetal position, brush off his clothes, and assess the damage
Three of the chorus members lay twitching on the stage. There's smoke coming from their robes and he's fairly sure part of the curtain's on fire. Zeus keeps looking at his hands then looking back up at the sky.
“Well, this is why we have understudies,” Nero says.
OCTAVIA: I do not deserve to be the wife of Nero.
His strength shows only that I am weak,
a sheep to a lion, an insignificant insect.
He is a god to me. His light blinds me.
--Nero, lines 1734-38, ibid
Rachel's sure she's in over her head.
It's her first production, her big break, and she thought at first, it was normal for the director to hire you on sight, make you live with her, and call you by your character's name every time she sees you.
It's got to be some sort of method thing, right up there with that Russian guy who built that town for the people to live in. Except that they could leave if they wanted to.
Also, it's like she's in a theatrical version of a CW show – everyone's gorgeous, under thirty, and no one was hired for acting talent. They just kind of stumble along, even as the director keeps changing the lines and rehearsals run ten hours long because Nero doesn't think they got it right.
Bitch, she thinks. You royal bitch.
She's pretty sure Nero's a girl, even though she walks around most of the time in guy's clothing. And Nero keeps hitting on her in character, which is terrifying, since Rach—Octavia's not sure what will happen to her if she turns her down. The other cast members are still talking about the disappearance of the last Octavia.
They also tell her things like, “I don't think she ever held auditions,” and “will we ever see an actual script?” and most recently, “I just want to go home.”
God, Octavia wants to go home. To see her parents, change into some non-Roman clothing, sleep without fear of surprise rehearsal or word of another cast member “disappearing.”
“I am unworthy of his glory,” she says, and hopes that one day, she'll be free.
APOLLO: Your genius shines brighter than all others.
Men will be as moths that see such a light,
they run faster and burn themselves against it.
--Nero, lines 3423-26
Nero is a mediocre attempt at a Greek tragedy, made bearable only by the fact that the cast is so attractive, if you plug your ears you can stare at the stage and ignore the atrocious acting.
Nero is a Greek tragedy gone horribly wrong; a comedy with unintentional humor, a post-modern play too dumb to be meta, a self-indulgent exercise by a monstrous ego. The only thing that redeems it are the fairly impressive special effects.
Harold's been mentally composing reviews all evening long and he still can't describe the absolute train wreck of theater he's been watching. He's been to shitty performance art (literal in many cases). He's seen one-man shows that should have recast.
Hell, he watched the Spider-Man musical.
But this? This is a whole new level of hell.
Given she's listed in the playbill as the director, he blames the actress playing Nero. She's probably some slip of a girl with an inferiority complex. A little princess with too much money (her daddy's) and not enough discipline.
He'll have to find a way to work it into the review.
The chorus is still prattling their praise of Nero when Harold's had enough of it. The paper's not paying him enough for this crap.
Harold stands up and makes his way to the door. It looks like he's not the only one considering a rapid departure, judging from the other people eying the back of the theater.
He reaches to push it open and--
There's a shout on stage – something that reaches deep into his ear. He loses his balance, falling to his knees. What was it—it had to have been that girl.
What did she say?
He's dizzy – are the walls getting longer? He doesn't remember the theater being this elaborate. There's gold everywhere, red curtains, and was this building always round?
It's official. He's gone insane.
He hears crying, pleading, screaming in the audience and on stage. Everyone wants to leave. They beg to Nero asking, “
Shut up, you fools, he thinks in his last moment of rational thought. Until the play is over, we cannot go.
He's hoping he'll still be alive by then.
CHORUS: Do not fear. The people love you.
NERO: I do not fear what I love.
CHORUS: We will die for you.
NERO: I am honored by your sacrifice.
--Nero, lines 5975-79, ibid.
Zeus just wants to get out of here alive and if it means seeing this play to the end, he will.
He looks over at the other cast members. Athena's eyes are filled with terror, Poseidon's gripping his trident so hard his knuckles are white, and he's pretty sure the only reason Apollo is still standing is that he's gone to his happy place, if the dreamy expression on his face is any indication.
The less said about Seneca, the better. They still haven't found his body.
Zeus is a professional. He can do this. He breathes in deeply. “O Nero, you have saved Rome.”
Nero smiles at him. It's chilling in its childishness. “The gods have blessed me with their praise.”
“We applaud your mercy and nobility.”
“But my sense of justice is unappeased.”
Wait. That wasn't in the script. He didn't hear that in rehearsals. Oh, God.
She's going off-book, he thinks numbly. He stumbles for a response. “We know your sense of justice well.”
“We cannot forget those who have betrayed us.”
And she pulls out a sword.
That's it, he knows. No one gets out alive.
Zeus begins to cry.
NERO: Even gods cannot stop what is fated.
CHORUS: We would have you live.
NERO: What an artist this world is losing.
CHORUS: We know what we lose too late.
NERO: To live is a scandal and shame.
CHORUS: We know you to be a man of honor.
NERO: This does not become Nero, does not become him.
CHORUS: We know your strength.
NERO: One should be resolute at such times.
CHORUS: We will not change your will.
NERO: Come, rouse oneself!
CHORUS: We hear the beat of the enemy.
NERO: Hark, now strikes on my ear the trampling of swift-footed coursers!
--Nero, lines 6755-67, ibid.
“Too late,” she whispers. “This is fidelity.”
It's the greatest performance, she's ever again, and as Nero gets lifted up to the heavens, perched atop a golden chariot with all the gods mourning at her side, she prepares for the acclaim that will rightfully be hers.
There is nothing but silence.
She peeks down below to the audience. They're white faced, mouths shut, trembling.
Did her grandeur overwhelm them? No doubt. They will stir themselves, and soon, she will hear their rapturous applause, their joyful proclamations, their cries for encores.
A few minutes pass.
Perhaps, they are unaware of the ending. Nero calls out, “The play is over: clap your hands!.”
No one claps. No one calls out. They sit there, motionless, like puppets with their strings cut.
Nero narrows her eyes.
Eventually, the fire does die down. The police are there a bit longer, but after the building is a total loss, the shell-shocked witnesses are loaded into ambulances, and the sirens fade into the night, Nero walks out and sifts ashes through her fingers.
Why can they not accept her love? Her art? Was it too advanced for their minds? She still cannot understand her people and their limitations. Why must their souls be so restricted?
Her biggest mistake was thinking too small. Clearly, this place was ill-suited to one of her grandeur. She needs a proper stage where her talent can burn the brightest – a place where passion and excess is rewarded, where braver audiences exist, where she can indulge herself to the height of her genius and stage a production worthy of her.
Next stop, Broadway.