Shakespeare Electronic Conference, SHK 7.0943. Friday, 13 December 1996.
Date: Thursday, 12 Dec 1996 16:04
Subject: Antony & Cleo - Washington DC
Antony and Cleopatra is on stage in Washington DC, and it's a pretty cool
production, especially if you like snakes and cats.
The stage is a sparse grey affair, often in the configuration of a pyramid,
that manages to hint at the attraction of Egypt that lingers and keeps pulling
Antony across the Mediterannian. And while this sparseness seems to capture
the cold Roman lifestyle, I felt like the Egyptian scenes needed a little more.
Egypt is depicted as little more than a day bed or a giant cat. I understand
the production chose this simple approach believing that no set could match the
opulence of the imagination, and I tend to agree; nevertheless, I wished for
just a little more. At least a pillow for the Queen to recline on (and maybe
some ferns and throw pillows and a dimple boy with a big feather fan). The
Egyptian costumes were exotic enough to transport you to this odd, far-off land
where the natives have a different perspective and priorities than the Romans.
I really enjoyed the male leads. Antony is the noblest of soldiers; his
vacillation between she-loves-me/she's-using-me in the later part of the play
push right past the edge of sanity to let you know how his love and his honor
are tearing him up. Of all the Antony's I remember, this one has the loosest
grip on his mental state. The real highlight for me was Caesar. I don't know
how to explain it, except to say, can you imagine a skinnier shorter David Hyde
Pierce (Frasier's kid brother) still giving you the willies? Imagine Caesar
was that wimp-geek you usta beat up in the locker room, but now he's got the
Roman Army and revenge on his mind. Add in a dash of incest and a touch of
sadness and envy, 'cause he's not as cool as Antony and you've got a Caesar who
really ought to be in therapy, when he's not taking over the world.
Okay, here's a question. Helen Carey plays Cleopatra and I think she's great.
Last month, her Queen Margaret was scarry and heartwrenching and, when she
played Lady Macbeth it was the reason to see the show (I'd have put her in the
title role). However, as Cleopatra, the choice was made for her to play
Cleopatra for comedy in the first half of the show. Certainly, the words allow
for great laughter, at the expense of Cleopatra's vanity, but the result, was a
cartoon character, not that lass unparalleled, for whom Antony abandons two
wives and a third of the world. I was much more intrigued by the second half
Cleopatra and her struggle to survive and/or become "more Roman."
My question; does Cleo normally get played for that much laughter?
There was a last moment substitution for the fig-asp salesman. Even so, like
many of the smaller parts, I thought it was handled wonderfully; this simple
man providing the Queen of Egypt a final perspective in her last moments of
life. The part is normally played by Floyd King, the companies comic-stalwart.
Could someone else who sees the play, tell me how this scene plays with Mr.
King; I have a hard time imagining him on stage without laughter, and I assume
he defies that expectation.
For those of you doing the MLA thing, I recommend it, but my understanding is
the run has sold well and tickets may be tough to find (202-418-4808).
Cymbeline is also playing at the smaller and quirkier Washington Shakespeare
company (703-418-4808). (Quirkier in a good way) I look forward to seeing it,
as I don't know how it ends. I suspect it is tough for many of us to be
genuinely surprised by Shakespeare, but when I saw Two Gentlemen last year, the
ending was an actual surprise. For that reason I've decided not to read
Pericles, Timon and Henry 8.
I'll just bide my time; how long do you think I'll have to wait?