Sunday, August 9, 2015

Or Shakes - Antony and Cleopatra

Yeah, I don't think anybody calls the Oregon Shakespeare Festival "Or Shakes" but I'm starting it here. Usually I attend plays put on by the California Shakespeare Festival, but this year my wife and I made a special trip up to Ashland, Oregon to see Antony and Cleopatra. It's a play that I had never read before, although I was familiar with the principle characters from history, HBO's Rome, and even Shakespeare's Julius Caesar.

As usual, I read about two-thirds of the play before seeing it, just to familiarize myself with the basic story before viewing the play. I didn't feel compelled to read the whole thing for the simple fact that Shakespeare was not a novelist, and he wrote his plays with the intention of having them be performed. Personally, I don't think that I ever really enjoy reading one of his plays on the first go-round. I usually wind up liking it after seeing it on stage (or a good movie adaptation). Teaching his works also brings about a deep appreciation for me.

So, here are some things that struck me about the play in general and this production in particular:

1. Oregon must have a larger budget than Cal Shakes. With my local Shakespeare festival, actors often double, even triple, up on parts, as they don't cast a different person for each role. This is usually not a problem, but I've been confused a couple of times when viewing a play that I didn't know that well. Up in Oregon, I'm pretty sure each actor only played one part. This was especially helpful when it came to some of the important characters who aren't the well-known figures of history. I was having a hard time keeping track of the soldiers and servants while doing my crash-course in the play, but it wasn't an issue when I knew them by the way they looked.

Octavian Caesar and his sister, Octavia
2. This tragedy doesn't follow the same pattern as the ones that I know well - Macbeth, Romeo & Juliet, Julius Caesar, and Hamlet. While Antony certainly has a fatal flaw while retaining some honor, it doesn't lead to a progressive bodycount the way those other plays do. In fact, it didn't seem like that many people died at all. (Not a complaint - just an observation.)

3. Mark Antony is an interesting character, and Derek Lee Weedon was just the guy to portray him.
He's a guy torn between two worlds, and even though he's a military genius who commands the respect of his soldiers, he'd probably rather have a good time and party. The man probably could have been the first official Roman Emperor if not for his passions. I also really liked the fact that in this production he was noticeably older than the other two members of the Second Triumvirate - Octavian Caesar and Lepidus. I felt as though if he were a younger man, he would have easily been the one to come out on top among the three, but being older he was lacking the proper ambition and liked the idea of settling down.  Like I said, Weedon did a great job, and I could really feel the inner turmoil of the man.

4. I guess I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Cleopatra in all of this. I'm not sure that I have anything original to say about her, but both in Shakespeare's text and the performance of Miriam A. Laube, there's never a moment where you'd doubt why she'd be so alluring for Mark Antony. Yeah, the guy could rule what was essentially the known world, but it's easy to see why she's more appealing - especially to a guy like Antony. And don't get me wrong, she's not just a plot device to distract him. She's a fully-realized character who owns every scene she's in, and one wonders what she could have accomplished if she didn't live in such a patriarchal system.

That just about covers it. Overall, I'm really glad that I went, and while I have no intention of abandoning Cal Shakes, I think that making the effort to go up to Oregon more often will be well worth it.

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