Tuesday, May 09, 2006

21st Century Cleo

Spoke a bit more with Alli last night, at the One Acts opening night reception (the show is going well, by the way, but the houses are small; come see it, everybody!). She confessed to having done a bit of reading and research on A&C since the last meeting, which I took to mean she's pretty much on board.

"I've seen pictures of productions where Cleopatra looked like she was wearing some sort of 18th century dress," she said. "Why would they do that?"

Good question. Lots of Shakespeare plays get set in lots of crazy times and places, but this one doesn't strike me as inherently transplantable. Never the less, I cooked up a half-baked explanation on the spot, because, well, I'm a windbag: "I think in Shakespeare's time, Cleopatra was meant to have a particular resonance for his audiences. They had just lived through the reign of an exceptional female monarch, so I think Cleopatra probably reminded them of Elizabeth, and Shakespeare meant it that way. So...maybe other, later productions also associate Cleopatra with contemporary figures."

A good theory, I think, in retrospect. But it begs the question: who does Cleopatra resonate with today? I'm not suggesting that I dress her up like some contemporary celebrity or other (especially if the rest of the design stays Roman/Egyptian). But I do think that audiences like to be shown glimpses of their own historical moment reflected in Shakespeare's dazzling stage mirrors. So who would we be reflecting to them?

Antony could be any number of young, ambitious military or political figures. But there seems to be a shortage of female potentates in this day and age. Well, if Cleopatra can't be found in the corridors of political power, how about cultural power? Do any of Hollywood's stars measure up? Is Madonna the new Cleopatra? Angelina? Demi Moore? (shudder) Reese Witherspoon?

Or, I suppose, another way to look at it would be: if they were making another Cleopatra film, who could they cast who would do the role justice?

Any suggestions?

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