Saturday, February 11, 2006

Why A&C?

Harold Bloom calls Antony and Cleopatra the richest of all Shakespeare's plays. That's a very bold claim, but I'm tempted to agree: it has a scale and intensity which only a few of the great tragedies match, it has poetry to die for, it has moments of both high and low comedy, and it has characters that any self-respecting actor would give their eyeteeth to play.

Well, at least two characters, anyway. Or, well, most definitely one. As word has begun to leak out about this proposed production (I'm not very good at keeping secrets), the response from female members of the Walterdale community has been uniform: "Ooh, maybe I could play Cleopatra!" Some of them aren't even really actors!

But I think the reason Cleo is so attractive to actors can also extend to the rest of the play. It's a play about playing roles, a play about characters who sometimes appear human (like a Shylock or a Lear), sometimes larger than life (like Iago or Falstaff), but who are always "on," always acting, always conscious of the presence of an audience.

With a play like Lear, you have to convince yourself that these people on stage are real human beings with pasts and inner lives. It's not exactly difficult--suspension of disbelief and all that--but it sometimes takes a bit of work. A&C is all about performance. You don't have to pretend; you just have to luxuriate. A good production should make the audience feel rich as well--and it should make them feel like they themselves are part of the performance.

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