PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Reviews

Heart of America Shakespeare Festival: 28 June 2012 - Kansas City, MO

Photo credit: Sabrina Staire

In the very least, if not a hagiography, Cleopatra is afforded much attention in this rendition. And what a delightful and instructive rendition it is.

Heart of America Shakespeare Festival - Antony and Cleopatra

City: Kansas City, MO
Date: 2012-06-28

“Let it be done”. The Heart of America Shakespeare Festival celebrated its twentieth anniversary by producing Shakespeare’s classical tragedy, Antony and Cleopatra, for the first time. In this Jacobean drama, several intriguing themes could have been assessed: Roman politics, the rise of Rome’s first emperor, the religio-mythology concerning Antony and Cleopatra, the enigmatic world of Egypt, and the tragedy that accompanies undying love.

Director Sidonie Garrett rather highlights the liberal and provocative character of Cleopatra (Kim Martin-Cotten), a variation on tragic love. Instead of Mark Antony (John Rensenhouse) being a tragic hero, this production transforms Cleopatra into one. In the very least, if not a hagiography, Cleopatra is afforded much attention in this rendition. And what a delightful and instructive rendition it is.

In the drama’s first main scene, Cleopatra and Antony wantonly frolic and flirt. Quite vividly, their great passion for one another is unequivocally underscored. In fact, in a matter of minutes Antony manages to kiss Cleopatra’s neck, position his face in her bosom, and encourage her to lie almost submissively on her back—all in or perchance for good sport.

Principals Martin-Cotten and Rensenhouse re-implement the unabashed eroticism and physicality that each brought to last summer’s production, Macbeth. There is a relative similarity to the Lady Macbeth-Macbeth dynamic indeed: Cleopatra’s ostensible insatiable nature must lead to the unmitigated ruin of Antony, and therefore the entire Roman Republic.

Notwithstanding, Cleopatra loses her entire Egyptian empire and her life in this affair, too. Is it too far-fetched to consider Cleopatra a tragic heroine? After all, she chooses to form an alliance—political and otherwise—with Antony; and it is that basic tactical decision that eventually leads to her downfall.

In her historical study of Cleopatra, Stacy Schiff notes: “A commanding woman versed in politics, diplomacy, and governance; fluent in nine languages; silver-tongued and charismatic, Cleopatra nonetheless seems the joint creation of Roman propagandists and Hollywood directors”. Can one bypass the propagandists, including the Bard himself? Can one show a tragic Cleopatra with any efficacy?

Martin-Cotten’s Queen of Egypt does just that: Antony is the fatal man. Cleopatra is a powerful, intimidating figure in a masculine, Roman world; she is unusually loud-voiced and calculating but also contradictory in that she is also impulsive, vulnerable, and emotional. Most of the drama’s standout scenes are dominated by her unique presence, especially in the first half. This is in large part due to Martin-Cotten’s insightful, piercing, and, to be sure, mesmerizing portrayal.

And when Cleopatra is onstage one never knows exactly what to expect. For instance, Cleopatra lambastes Antony for his hypocritical devotion to his late wife, Fulvia. Cleopatra’s temperament varies from critical, palpable anger to a genuine sense of hurtful vulnerability. Moreover, when Cleopatra learns about Antony’s political marriage to Octavia, Cleopatra becomes violent and nearly assaults the messenger slave; Cleopatra subsequently obsesses over Octavia.

Since Cleopatra is given so much attention, Antony’s psychomachia is a bit overshadowed, despite the parallel meltdown scenes. But Kansas City native Rensenhouse nicely encapsulates the self-conscious, livid, and, at times, contemplative Antony—such as when his rebel-warrior wife, Fulvia, has died and, later, when he determines that Cleopatra has failed or deceived him. Antony is torn between his duty as a Roman general and his pleasure with Cleopatra in Alexandria.

But in this rendition, Mark Antony is not so much a tragic hero as a pathetic individual. His old-age and his incompetence are surely recognized: he misjudges Octavian’s military strength and Machiavellian inclination and also allows Cleopatra to lead a ship at sea. Furthermore, Antony cannot properly commit suicide, per the Roman manner. Antony does not seem like any godlike general; he seems a has-been. Cleopatra is forever infatuated nonetheless.

The incredulous Enobarbus (Bruce Roach) also disapproves of Antony’s decision to engage in an affair with Cleopatra, a woman ruler and, too, a woman from the East. For Enobarbus, Antony has effectively emasculated himself because he has chosen hedonism over virtue and Roman duty. Octavian (Jason Chanos) coldly and efficiently overtakes Antony and Cleopatra in the Battle of Actium, and in so doing he displays little to no personality. For Octavian, this war is all about a methodical power-grab; he will eventually become Caesar Augustus, Rome’s first emperor.

After Antony stabs himself in act four, a pulley-type device is utilized to bring Antony, bleeding, to Cleopatra in her monument; this is an extraordinary bit of theatre, and it is likely modeled on a nineteenth-century painting. Also, Cleopatra’s death scene was well-staged: The Queen of Egypt asks to be dressed appropriately before succumbing to the worm of the Nile, the mortal asp. Therefore a lavish crown is placed on her head and she puts on an elegant robe, Cleopatra spreads her arms out much like a peacock would, and her robe betrays its several colors. Costume designer Mary Traylor and scenic designer Gene Friedman deserve credit for these two noteworthy scenes.

In a word, this is a fine, daring, and intelligent production.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Music

Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.

Books

Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.

Music

Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.

Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.