Antony and Cleopatra

A Review

Cleopatra

Sophie Okonedo as Cleopara

If you ever get a chance to see a production of National Theatre Live you should. The next best thing to live theatre is live telecast theatre. The play Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare is my fourth foray into this domain and it didn’t disappoint. Watching fine British actors like Ralph Fiennes who plays Mark Antony, and Sophie Okonedo  who plays Cleopatra, is a delightful pleasure like none other.

Harold Bloom, writing in his masterful work, Shakespeare – The Invention of the Human, says, “Of Shakespeare’s representation of women, Cleopatra is the most subtle and formidable.” And I would say Sophie Okenedo’s portrayal of her is by far the most superb interpretation of this magnificent creature. She is by turns moody, funny, bitchy, sexy, powerful, and above all regal. Ralph Fiennes holds his own with her as the Roman General who is in decline. Antony, like empires, is a study in decline and fall. The very hairs on his head rebel against the aging warrior. “My very hairs do mutiny; for the white reprove the brown for rashness, and they them for fear and doting.” You will see in him, one of the triple pillars of the world, transformed into a strumpet’s fool.

Ralph Fiennes

Ralph Fiennes as Mark Antony

In an interview Ralph Fiennes says of the pair, “He’s not an idealized warrior and she’s not an idealized princess. They’re full of temperament and tantrums and mood swings, and I think that combination is very moving to people.” Are Antony and Cleopatra in love? Well they certainly appeared to me to be in love. They certainly were not bored with each other.

Director Simon Godwin kept the action moving in this modern dress rendition of Shakespeare’s tragedy. Costume designer Evie Gurney created designs for Cleopatra that were not just costumes but high fashion. They had to communicate not only her physicality but project power as well. The dyes used in the fabrics were made with Sophie’s skin tone in mind so that she would exhibit a golden glow. The Saffron dress was inspired by Beyoncé’s Lemonade album. So, it is not too great a stretch to say a costume fit for Queen Bey was also fit for Queen Cleopatra.

ralph-fiennes-sophie-okonedo-

Ralph Fiennes and Sophie Okonedo

The set design by Hildegard Bechtler was imaginative and ingenious. It was fluent and moving as the scenes changed in a smooth fluid manner. The center stage revolved from one scene to another, actors walked off into darkness others appeared in light. It was a miracle of rare device, changing swiftly from Egypt to Rome and back again. And at one point a submarine conning tower miraculously arose from the stage floor. And in Egypt a turquoise tiled pool. This magnificent play plays superbly well when properly directed and acted. It is too large for just any stage, but London’s Olivier is just the ticket!

In the climactic scene Cleopatra asks, “Hast thou the pretty worm of Nilus there, that kills and pains not?”

The worm of Nilus in this production looked more like a giant coral snake, with vibrant colors of red, yellow and black, but I am sure it made more of a dramatic stage presentation than its colorless cousin the asp.

“Will it eat me?” She childishly asks.

“I wish you all joy of the worm,” is the answer.

When she is discovered by Octavius after the fatal bite, he says, “Cleopatra shall be buried by her Antony: No grave upon earth holds in it a pair so famous.”

This play is about war writ large, East vs West, and two flawed individuals passionately in love with each other and at times at war with each other too.

 

 

HENRY IV

henry iv

Is There Free Will?

There is in Louisville, Kentucky. You can find Free Will in Central Park, home of the country’s longest running Free Shakespeare in the Park.

Last night Kentucky Shakespeare, spearheaded by managing producer Matt Wallace, mounted another successful production of one of the bard’s history plays: Henry IV.

Directed by Amy Attaway and acted by a fine ensemble cast it was sight to behold and a treat to listen to. Only a few minor quibbles. Couple of times the mics seemed to fall into a dead zone causing the actor’s voices to drop, a missed light cue or two, and a couple of slow entrances, but these are minor flaws in an otherwise outstanding performance.

Henry IV is one of my favorites among many of Shakespeare’s plays. It has some of his best lines and it introduces one of the greatest characters of all time, Falstaff. Some have said that Falstaff is a stand in for Shakespeare himself and have cited the similarity in their names: Fall/staff, Shake/speare.

Harold Bloom writing in his, Shakespeare, The Invention of the Human, quotes Hegel: “Shakespeare made his best characters free artists of themselves.” The freest of them all are Hamlet and Falstaff because they are they are the most intelligent of Shakespeare’s persons. Falstaff certainly shows his proclivity for eating, drinking, and fornicating and basically being a social deviant.

Anthony Burgess suggests that the Falstaffian spirit is a great sustainer of civilization. It disappears when the state is too powerful. There is little of Falstaff’s spirit in the world today. As the power of the state expands, what is left will be liquidated.

But wait…don’t banish Falstaff, not sweet, kind Jack Falstaff, true Jack Fallstaff, valiant Jack Falstaff, old Falstaff, banish plump Jack and banish all the world.

Keep Will Free!

 

 

 

Julius Caesar

Shakespeare in the Park

wp-1499631036842.jpg

An excellent production last night of Julius Caesar. It comes at a most propitious moment in time. Lots of parallels to what is going on in our own political landscape. Director Matt Wallace continues to produce some of the most exciting Shakespeare that you are ever likely to see. I have been going to see Shakespeare in the Park since the 1970’s and I can say without reservation that it just keeps getting better and better. The acting is first rate, the direction and staging are superb and the technical aspects such as lighting and sound are first class. Kudos to the costume designer! Kentucky Shakespeare continues to break records for audience attendance. Do yourself a favor and catch one or more of the shows this season. Keep Will Free!

TITUS ANDRONICUS

20161030_161315.jpg

This is where they disposed of the bodies…..

Titus Andronicus is one of Shakespeare’s more out there plays. It was presented recently by Kentucky Shakespeare at a warehouse in the heart of Butchertown near downtown Louisville just in time for Halloween. How very appropriate in both cases for this was the most bloody and horror haunted of all the Bard’s pieces.

Titus was one of Shakespeare’s early plays and written when he was quite young. It is not one of his best plays but it is certainly one of his goriest. Perfect for the October Country and very fitting fare for Halloween.

Director Matt Wallace gives us plenty of atmosphere by staging the play in an abandoned warehouse with with dark interiors, concrete floors, exposed pipes, and plenty of fog. Lighting  was from utility lamps pressed into service. The play is set in set in ancient Rome but the warehouse space and the costuming of the actors give the play the right horror haunted feel. Just right for torture and mayhem. The cast was dressed in black leather and Tamora, Queen of the Goths, was appropriately outfitted in a black leather corset suitable to her name.

Harold Bloom has called this play a testimony to patriarchy’s ultimate oppression of its females. In an act of revenge, Lavinia, Titus’s daughter, is savagely raped by Tamora’s sons, Demetius and Chiron. Tamora says to them, “…when you have the honey of your desire, let not this wasp outlive, us both to sting.” After raping Lavinia the boys cut out her tongue and slice off both her hands so that she cannot identify them.

titus-jumbo

Later Titus continues the cycle of revenge by killing both of Tamora’s sons by cutting their throats. He drains their blood and bakes their remains into a pie and then feeds the meal to Tamora unbeknownst to her. When she finds out horror ensues.

The actors were uniformly excellent and the play was as good a Shakespeare as you will see anywhere in the country. Titus Andronicus was a marvel to behold.