Friday, March 16, 2007

Ups and Downs

It's been an interesting week -- trying to keep things on schedule despite occasional cast absences and a minor crisis with another Walterdale show (back on track now, I think) -- and creeping once again towards the final scenes of the play, which we haven't worked in a while, and which I don't feel like I have a much firmer grasp on, even now. I reassure myself my observing that some scenes, especially emotional ones, don't usually gel until you're in the space, surrounded by costumes and props and even an audience. Even so, it's nerve-wracking.

Working through the scenes that would have comprised Act Four in Shakespeare's version of the text, I notice a pattern starting to emerge. Antony enters, actively trying to generate high spirits and confidence (in himself, in Cleopatra, in his troops). Minor comic moments as his enthusiasm wavers. Then, a serious blow: Enobarbus has defected, or Caesar refuses to fight with him face to face, or Cleopatra never launched her ships. And, in each scene, Antony's spirits are crushed, and he leaves the stage convinced that he's going to die, and that it's all his fault (or, sometimes, possibly, Cleopatra's). And all these scenes are intercut with short scenes of Octavian gloating, or Enobarbus dying, or "the god Hercules" deserting Antony (via spooky music).

This pattern might be partially my own fault, since I did shuffle some scenes around, and since we're making some interpretive choices about tone, etc. But regardless, I can't help feeling that Shakespeare has gotten ahold of a great big hammer labelled "Antony is Doomed!" and is spending the act beating his audience over the head with it. Yes, Will, we understand. Antony is doomed; we've known this from the start; it is a tragedy. Get over it!

Or maybe "Get over it" should be directed at Antony himself, who seems to confront his oncoming defeat with nothing short of whiny, self-indulgent angst. This isn't John's fault, I hasten to point out; he seems to be much more comfortable with Antony when he's in full Roman mode, and whenever I offer him the opportunity to act rage, he delivers admirably. In other words, it's not the actor who's despondent, it's the character. Antony wants to be Hercules, but the circumstances (The fates? The gods? The author?) have turned him into goo.

I'm afraid this is not very satisfying, but I don't know what else to do. I've been looking for moments of humour, largely because watching forty minutes of self-important melancholia would be unbearable. But the more humour I inject, the more I make Antony's ups and downs into a farce. And, in another few scenes, he's going to undergo one of the most farcical deaths in all of Shakespeare: a botched suicide. I'd almost rather stage exit, pursued by a bear.

In one respect, this is what Shakespeare wanted: to show a potentially great man devolve into a disgrace. I just don't know how far I should go, and I don't feel like I'm in control of the trajectory. I'm terrified that, when he dies, at last, in the arms of Cleopatra, the audience's response will be: took him long enough!

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