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Wednesday, August 2nd, 2017

Time Event
1:49p
Royal Shakespeare Company: “Anthony and Cleopatra”

On Tuesday evening, July 18th, we went to the Downer Theater to see the hi-def broadcast of Shakespeare’s “Anthony and Cleopatra,” as performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company, of Stratford-upon-Avon, England. Actually, we saw half the presentation, since it was a work night for me and we both got tired, and bailed out at the intermission. (The first act plus “prologue” is two hours by itself--).  What we did see was very good and worthy of comment, though.

The title roles were played by Josette Simon as Cleopatra, and Antony Byrne as Marc Antony, both of whom were excellent. The RSC tends to cast this show with actors a bit more mature than usually pictured for the roles, which works well. Ms. Simon, like the historical Cleopatra, is striking rather than beautiful, and can be both commanding and beguiling. Her Cleopatra is mercurial both by nature and by design.  Byrne’s Antony is a bluff soldier, weary of the years of warfare since the death of his mentor, Julius Caesar.

The play makes it clear why Antony finds Egypt so seductive. Cleopatra’s court is beautiful, sensual, playful: everything Rome is not. Rome represents duty and politics. The one celebration there we see, for the temporary treaty with Pompey the Younger, turns into a crude all-male drinking bout.  

Very fine performances also by Ben Allen as the triumvir Octavius Caesar, who is more of a rival to Anthony than a villain, and by Lucy Phelps as his sister, Octavia, whom Octavian marries to Antony in an effort to cement an alliance.  Octavia is loyal to Anthony, until Octavius reveals his double-dealing with enemies of Rome, Cleopatra’s allies.

It was a really fine production as far as we saw and I’d be glad to see the whole thing if it were reshown at a more convenient time, or on DVD.

This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/310106.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
1:50p
Voices Found Repertory, “King John”
When we saw an item in the Shepherd Express that a new theatre group was performing Shakespeare’s “King John,” a history play few people have heard of, let alone actually seen, we had to go. (One of the items on my “bucket list” is to see every Shakespeare play performed at least once. This was one to check off.)

Voices Found Repertory performs at The Underground Collective, a surprisingly nice space in the basement of the Grand Avenue Plankinton Building, that includes a theater, recording studio, and other art spaces.

As the play opens, John (Brandon Judah) is King of England following the death of his brother Richard I (the Lionheart). His position is contested by Constance (Brittany Ann Meister), widow of John’s other elder brother, Geoffrey, who predeceased Richard but left a legitimate son, young Arthur (Graham Billings). Constance has leagued with King Phillip of France (Kira Renkas), promising him English-held lands in France if he helps win the English throne for Arthur.

Aided by his mother, the still-formidable Eleanor of Aquitaine (Claire Tidwell), John steals a march on the French, and meets them in arms at Angiers, a fortified town that is reluctant to let either force within its walls. (It’s interesting that Eleanor would seem to be so supportive of John, but this performance makes it clear that there is no love between Constance and Eleanor--. Eleanor shows more favor to a presumed bastard son of her beloved Richard, “Philip Faulconbridge” (Jeremy Labelle), whom she takes as a protégé, than for her grandson Arthur).
John and Eleanor broker a masterful deal, offering the Dauphin, Louis, (Brandon Haut), the hand of Blanche of Castile (Rachel Zembrowski) in marriage. (Historically, Blanche was the daughter of John’s sister, Eleanor of England, and Alfonso VIII, King of Castile). The marriage ceded some fiefdoms to Louis, and gave him a claim on the English throne after John. Arthur is thrown a bone in the form of being confirmed Duke of Brittany, his father’s title. Although Constance rages, she is stymied.

In the play (Shakespeare compresses considerable time), things fall apart upon the arrival of Cardinal Pandulph (Sarah Zapian), emissary of Pope Innocent III, who excommunicates John for having refused to recognize the Pope’s appointee to the Archbishopric of Canterbury, and requires the French to make war on him. Phillip is angered, but has to comply. (Historically, Phillip had felt the pain of being under Pope Innocent’s interdict over his attempt to set aside his marriage to Isambour of Denmark--.) The situation degenerates into a general battle, in which Arthur is captured by John’s forces.

John finds himself under pressure from both within and without, by the French and by English partisans of young Arthur. John gives orders to Hubert, Earl of Kent (Nick Hurtgen) to put Arthur to a particularly cruel death, which orders Hubert cannot bring himself to carry out. Nevertheless, rumors fly that John has killed Arthur, inspiring rebellion. Hubert returns to Rouen to produce Arthur, only to find that he has killed himself by leaping from the castle battlements. (Historically, no one knows what really became of Arthur after his incarceration at Rouen, and it is assumed John did away with him--.)

With Arthur’s death blamed on John, rebellious English join the Dauphin in an attempt to unseat John. John having perforce made his peace with the Pope, Pandulph attempts to decree peace, only to face the Dauphin’s vehement refusal.

In the battles that follow, John is demoralized by the death of his mother, and is roughly handled by the French and allies. In the heat of battle, he accepts a drink from a mysterious “monk”, which proves to have been poisoned. (John is actually thought to have died of dysentery contracted while on campaign, so a ‘poisoned drink’ may be not far from the truth—more so than the famous “surfeit of lampreys” story--.) John has a slow and agonizing death. Supporters of John’s son, Henry III, personified by Blanche, arrange for his succession.

This was a very enjoyable play. Done in modern dress, with little in the way of makeup or props, it relied on the considerable skill and energy of the cast to put the play across, which succeeded admirably. We particularly liked the convention of portraying the battle scenes as general brawls in which everyone, even Eleanor and Constance, took part. Although the production notes make explicit comparisons between the petty, spiteful, and cruel John and a certain American President, there’s little attempt to portray that in the performance (John doesn’t even wear a red tie--.). The director and cast wisely let us draw parallels where we may.

The major cast members have significant resumes in Shakespeare and other drama, and it shows. Brandon Judah had a fine range of expression as the sometimes charming, sometimes craven, and usually scheming King. Kira Renkas as King Philip effectively goes from smiling good humor when the wind is in France’s favor, to frustrated rage when the Church upsets plans. Actually, the play is full of good rants: John, Philip, Constance, Faulconbridge, and the Dauphin all have their unbridled scenes. In particular, Jeremy Labelle as Faulconbridge, a.k.a. Richard Plantagenet, a.k.a. “The Bastard” made the welkins ring, sometimes a bit too loudly, while taking pleasure in stirring up trouble.

This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/310517.html. Please comment there using OpenID.
1:52p
“Lost in Paris”
On Saturday, July 22nd, we went to the Downer Theater to see the new French comic film, “Lost in Paris.”

The film was directed by, and starred in by, Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon, and largely written by Abel, which may be an indication of why it sometimes (though seldom) seems a bit self-indulgent. Abel and Gordon are both skillful physical comedians, and if the plot plays to their strengths, it’s hard to argue with that.

Fiona (Ms. Gordon) plays a Canadian woman from a remote (and apparently, Arctic) village who is summoned to Paris by her aged aunt Marthe (Emanuelle Riva), who’s in danger of getting put into a nursing home against her will. By the time Fiona arrives, however, Marthe has disappeared. The mishap-prone Fiona manages to fall into the Seine while having her picture taken, and loses her backpack containing her ID, money and clothing. Dom (Mr. Abel), a homeless man, finds the pack and enjoys his good fortune until he and Fiona cross paths. Their fates then become entangled as Dom, in a bumbling but frequently effectively direct fashion, tries to assist the socially awkward Fiona as she alternately tries to disengage from him and to accept his help in finding her aunt in the strange city.

The result is a sweet, gently funny film that plays as though a low-keyed Carol Burnett were matched with a French-speaking Charlie Chaplin. It’s not outrageously funny, but it is charming and constantly interesting. We liked it a lot.

This entry was originally posted at http://sinister-sigils.dreamwidth.org/310686.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

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