Following these notes is the review that led me to create The New England Theatre Geek blog. While it started as a simple “fan report” for the Totally Kate website, I could not help but remark on the quality of the production as a whole. What I want to emphasize is the cooperative nature of the production. Kate Mulgrew is a wonderful, accomplished actress who continues to awe audiences with her performances; IN ADDITION, there were some talented students who rose up to the challenge of making this production of Antony and Cleopatra fully realized as a whole. Performing artists do not exist in a vacuum. We need to work to create a strong, creative vision. While “stars” emerge out of the process, it is the collective effort of the entire production company that makes or breaks a show. Harford Stage’s production of Antony and Cleopatra was one of the many productions I have seen of the play and is one of the only ones where I wasn’t sitting there saying to myself “when are they going to die already?”
The production process is an intricate web of cooperation and openness. Part of the Boston Philharmonic‘s vision for its organization is that it “RADIATES out through the energy of our players as they passionately lead with their bodies and dig their bows deep into the string [and] IS EXPRESSED in the composition of the orchestra, where top professionals, brilliant student musicians and passionate amateurs grow into one voice in the intensity and commitment of their music-making.”
Swiftly Tilting Theatre Project, Inc. has similar goals. We want a blend of experienced actors, students, and amateurs (the origin of the word “amateur” is from the French word meaning “lover of”) to foster a community of growth and a refinement of craft. A craft only goes so far in a traditional environment and ultimately the artists must go forth and work with other professionals to truly develop and understand their craft. That is why the Medieval guilds existed and why as artists we need to create and sustain communities that build up artists so that they can become artisans.
However, learning is not a vertical process and should not be treated as one. A colleague that I worked with when I was teaching high school offered the advice that “when you think you have nothing to learn, that’s when it’s time to retire.” As a teacher, I learned so much from my students about life and literature as I hope they gained a small portion of that from me. It’s through the integration of teacher, student, novice (or more aptly in artistic guild terms of master craftsman, journeyman, and apprentice) that art comes to life. Each person brings a unique perspective to the process that should be valued and used to create the best product possible.
Swiftly Tilting Theatre Project tilts its eyes towards this goal.
“2010 October 10
Antony and Cleopatra, Harford Stage, Hartford, CT 10/7/10-11/7/10
Reviewed by Becca Kidwell
From the start of the Antony and Cleopatra, Kate’s performance is filled with passion and abandon. Running in bare-footed with a sword, anyone who has seen many of Ms. Mulgrew’s performances realizes this is not the calm, controlled persona of Kathryn Janeway, Elizabeth Seton, or Janet Eldridge. Cleopatra is a woman who is one of the most powerful rulers in the world and yet is controlled by her lustful appetite for a man who can never be completely hers: Antony. Her strength and vulnerability are played out in her faithfulness to Antony and her jealousy of Antony’s wives. Her performance evokes lust, humor, rage, sensuality, and pathos that compel you to be drawn into her plight. The energy that she puts into her performance meets and sometimes exceeds some of the soldiers and dancers and does not stop until the snake kills her. With the wildness of her character combined with a beautiful long flowing wig and voluptuous costumes, she appears more youthful and free than some of her roles from twenty years ago (if only we all could “youth-en” in that way!). I hope we continue to get to see her versatility as the years go on. As for the actress herself, Ms. Mulgrew was extremely gracious after running around for three hours to take the time to sign my program and allow me to thank her for her magnificent performance as well as her previous work.
As for the rest of the production, it was fabulous! The entire cast is strong (including approximately 4-6 students) and provides a very human experience that betrays the labels of “good” and “evil”; Kendra Underwood’s portrayal of Octavia epitomizes the snare that most of the characters face as pawns in a political game. John Douglas Thompson mirrors Kate Mulgrew’s strength and vulnerability. He demonstrates that Antony was a strong leader, but his desire for Cleopatra is stronger. The casting of Steven Parkinson as Octavius Caesar is perfect. His youth and brashness contrast with Antony and Lepidus’ stolid natures; he is the only one of the triumvirate who is ready to fully claim the role of emperor.
The set design and staging provide an intimate and stark production that allows the audience to focus on the action and the language. Many modern Shakespearean productions become overindulgent in making the performance “relevant” and lose sight of the story and the language; this production balances the modernity with the classic story. The production is reminiscent of Julie Taymor’s film of Titus Andronicus. The sparse representative scenery provides a clear view of all of the action regardless of where you are sitting. The lavish colors of Cleopatra’s kingdom stand out against the black and white sparseness of Rome. The action in the upstage area reminds the audience that the scenes move concurrently with their foreign counterparts. The music and dancing emphasize the visceral nature of warring kingdoms. Although the plot is one of Shakespeare’s more difficult to follow if you have not had a classical education, the staging and performances impart a powerful story of politics and passion that brings the audience to its feet. 10/10/10. TNETG.
Photo: Kate Mulgrew and John Douglas Thompson
photo by T. Charles Erickson