Saturday, August 12, 2006

Utah, Part 2

In my last post, I outlined some of the things that went wrong in the Utah Antony & Cleopatra. Here's one or two things they did right:

--The relationship between Octavius and Octavia. Even though neither actor was very strong, the director used blocking to communicate Octavius's reluctance to let his sister become Antony's wife. This is easy to overlook; but Octavius isn't the one who suggests the marriage (Agrippa does), and he spends almost exactly the same amount of time bidding farewell to Octavia as Antony does in a later scene (when he's planning to return to Egypt). The director kept having Octavius interpose himself between Octavia and Antony, until finally the frustrated Antony, crying "Come, sir, come, I'll wrestle with you in my strength of love" grabs Octavius and pulls him away. He turns it immediately into a joke, but it also served to reinforce Octavius's dislike and fear of Antony.

--Also, calling "Octavius" "Octavian." It's easier to say, especially the possessive.

--The scene in which Cleopatra learns that Antony has remarried (2.5), and the scene in which she quizzes a messenger about Octavia's appearance (3.3). Lots of inherent comic irony in these scenes, and a chance to show both the best and worst sides of Cleopatra. In Utah, the messenger was a great comic actor, easily tempted by offers of gold, and then terrified when he thinks he's said the wrong things. In 3.3, he kept looking back to Charmian and Iras before answering Cleopatra's questions:

CLEOPATRA: Is she as tall as me?
MESSENGER: She is... [Behind Cleopatra, Charmian and Iras shake their heads] not, madam.
CLEOPATRA: Didst hear her speak? Is she shrill-tongued or low?
MESSENGER: Madam, I heard her speak; she is... [Charmian and Iras gesture to the floor] low-voiced.

This went on until the Messenger, getting cocky, said, "And I do think she's thirty" in a sneering tone of voice that suggested any woman over thirty must be a hag. Cleopatra grew cold, and the Messenger tensed up, expecting another violent assault like the one in 2.5.

--The Soothsayer. In Utah, he was tall and thin, with dark circles underneath his eyes. He spent most of his scenes staring up at the sky (which, in the open-air pseudo-Globe, actually contained stars), and only reluctantly read Charmian and Iras's palms. His presence alone onstage book-ended the production, as if he were a reticent sort of chorus figure. But more interestingly, he reappeared twice in the second half of the play: once as part of the "hautboys" scene, and again disguised as the clown who brings Cleopatra's asps.

The "hautboys" scene (4.3) features Antony's night watchmen reacting to strange, ethereal music (according to Shakespeare's stage direction, "Music of the hautboys under the stage"--hautboys are like oboes). One soldier declares, "'Tis the god Hercules, whom Antony loved, now leaves him." In Utah, they gave this line to the Soothsayer--very clever, I think, since no ordinary soldier should be able to read such omens or portents.

As for the Soothsayer/Clown doubling, I had already planned to do that for practical purposes; but now it occurs to me that it might be valuable to make it plain that the Soothsayer is providing Cleopatra's means of achieving immortality. His lines are goofy (and not terribly funny, although the Utah audience did chuckle once or twice), but I think they could be delivered with a hidden earnestness that suggests the speaker knows Cleopatra's plan.

Humour in the play is a problem which I'll have to address sooner or later. I was very pleased with how much levity I could wring from King Lear--but then, that tragedy has a Fool as one of its major characters (for the first half of the play, at least). In this play, we have one Clown in one short sequence near the very end of the play--not enough laughter. Enobarbus may draw out a few guffaws, but even he gets pretty serious in a hurry.

1 comment:

cpc said...

Glad the trip had some worthwhile moments.