Thursday, August 10, 2006

Egypt in Utah

Just got back from a three-day Shakespeare conference in Cedar City, Utah. I presented a paper on "Hamletmachines and CyberDanes" (something from my grad studies), but the main reason for going was not the paper, nor any of the other academic shenanigans. Mainly, I wanted to check out the Utah Shakespeare Festival, and in particular, to see their production of Antony & Cleopatra.

You see...big confession here...I'd never actually seen a live performance of the play until now. Hence the need to fly 500 miles (including one hop in a tiny twin propeller plane) to the hot red desert (not Egypt; the other one).

How was it? Well, Cedar City is pretty...and the conference was OK, although there were only a handful of papers about A&C--most of them dealing with film & TV versions, not stagings. The Shakespearean theatre was lovely, a quaint, open-air riff on the original Globe (without the "pit" for groundlings to stand in). I saw a very fun production of Merry Wives of Windsor...

And then there was A&C. Oh, dear. What a travesty. Antony was a hulking boor with a radio announcer's voice and a tendency to sway, as if drunk, even at the character's most sober moments. Cleopatra was a strong actress (she'd done a great job as Mistress Quickly the night before), but she seemed unfocused, shiftless--generally lacking in either authority or sex appeal. Octavius was similarly vague. Octavia was unspeakably bad. And the costumes...oh my god... it was like they threw every style from East Indian to Cavalier England into a tie-dye machine.

But a show with a few bad actors and a nightmarish design concept might still be saved, if the director knows what he or she is doing. This guy didn't. As a result, the blocking was mostly unmotivated (and poorly suited to the thrust stage), and the actors' gestures lacked specificity and realism. This trend reached its nadir when Cleopatra plucked a rubber asp out of the basket and held it like it was...well, a rubber toy, instead of a deadly serpent or her ticket to immortality.

Yipes. Just yipes.

For all that, there was a handful of interesting moments, and I feel no remorse about stealing or adapting them into my own production, mainly because I can't help feeling they were either accidental, or ripped off themselves. I'll describe a few of them shortly. I also have some reports from Sheila, my wife, who just got back from England, where she saw two productions of the play (at Stratford and the New Globe), both light years better than the one I suffered through.

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