Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Hide and Seek

Here's a great practical example of how knowledge of the set design can help to solve a director's challenges, while simultaneously opening new avenues of exploration.

Antony & Cleo enter about ten lines into the play proper. Prior to that, a Roman soldier (Ventidius in my version) is moaning about how Cleo has turned Antony into a simpering girly-man instead of the mighty soldier he should be. When the two of them enter, they start talking about (what else?) their love. Cleo asks Antony to measure it for her; he cleverly evades this trap, and so on:

CLEOPATRA: If it be love indeed, tell me how much.

ANTONY: There's beggary in the love that can be reckoned. (or "measured" in my version)

CLEOPATRA: I'll set a limit on how far to love.

ANTONY: Then thou must needs find out new heaven, new earth.

The challenge is this: how do they enter? Side by side? Arm in arm? Or does Cleo walk ahead of Antony--since she is the Queen here, after all, and since she has the first line? Or should Antony lead, with Cleo following, begging for his love--putting the lie to what Ventidius has said about his diminished power?

Obviously, Shakespeare is no help in resolving this. Directors and actors can debate endlessly about who has the status, and how the audience should first be exposed to these central characters. The possibilities are almost limitless...

...until you have a set. And in our set, the central entrance is covered with an archway and a screen, which means that actors must walk around one side or the other (which I'll be calling Upstage Right and Upstage Left from now on) before they are visible to the audience. And since there are also pillars set along each side of the arch, the entryways are only about four feet across.

Now, having A&C enter side by side or arm in arm becomes a challenge. Not only do you have to decide which side of the arch to bring them in, but you also risk having them squeeze together most undecorously in order to get through the entryway. A grand, processional entrance is effectively out of the question.

So, one leads and the other follows? But which side of the arch do they enter from? A non-centralized entrance effectively weakens the impact of both characters. And (unlike my production of Lear last year) this play really doesn't feel like it moves in curves and spirals--it's more of a straight-on, right-angle kind of show. How can you bring on two characters from a non-centralized entrance but still have them dominate the stage?

The solution is practically self-evident. They enter at the same time--but they enter separately, coming around either side of the arch, creating a centralized movement between the two of them. This works visually, and it starts to say something about the characters as well (the fact that they treat each other as equals). But does it make sense to have two characters enter in mid-conversation, but from different entrances? How could that be explained?

A glance ahead a few pages provides the next solution. After the two of them have exited, Cleopatra re-enters (this is Act 1, Scene 2 in the original, although it will play straight through in my version). To Enobarbus, she asks, "Saw you my lord?"

ENOBARBUS: No, lady.

CLEOPATRA: Was he not here?

CHARMIAN: No, madam.

CLEOPATRA: He was disposed to mirth, but suddenly
A Roman thought did strike him.

Then, moments later, when Antony does arrive, Cleopatra characteristically changes her mind, and exits, saying "We will not look upon him."

What's going on here? Isn't it obvious? They're playing hide and seek. Although Antony's goals have started to shift (having received some upsetting news from Rome, as Cleopatra implies), Cleopatra continues the game, scurrying off as soon as Antony re-enters.

Applying this idea back to their first entrance, I find it delightfully concordant with the constraints of the set. The characters are engaged in an ongoing discussion (about their love), but they are also involved in an ongoing game of chase-me, chase-you, using the entire palace (or all of Alexandria) as their playground.

Obviously, this choice supports Ventidius's opinion (that Antony is not behaving like a soldier). But, curiously, it refutes his idea that Antony has somehow become subservient to Cleopatra. He is not "a strumpet's fool" if both of them are acting like fools to the same degree. The entrance will suggest fresh, unbridled love--but not, I think, in any way which will diminish the participants.

I love it when solutions just happen.


mejonesutarzan said...

Have you read All for Love?

Scott Sharplin said...

Yes, although it's been awhile. Do they play hide and seek in that version?

(For those who don't know, All For Love is a Restoration adaptation of A&C by John Dryden.)