Artemis Preeshl and her company, "Artemis and the Wild Things," recently gave William Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra a shaking up that truly had to be seen to be believed. One look at the show's crudely designed logo said it all: CLEOPATRA & antony.
As an actress, Preeshl has much to learn about diction, body movement, and humility. As a director, she has much to learn about casting, blocking, focus, and detail.
There were numerous examples: all action stopped while Preeshl performed a ludicrously inexplicable belly dance; during a scene of bacchanalian revelry, an actor crudely belched upstage while a crucial exchange was being subtly played downstage; Antony (a bellowing Marshall Lucas) bloodlessly stabbed himself (noticeably under his armpit - when he said his line "How, not dead?" the obvious answer was: "because you missed!"); when Antony's "blood stained" sword was presented to Octavius, it was in noticeably pristine condition; Enobarbus's death scene became a laugh riot when he fell to the stage floor and revealed his bare ass (or was it Seleucus's? It was hard to tell, as the roles were played by the same actor wearing the same costume doing the same line readings for both); etc., etc., etc....
The performances, with two notable exceptions, were all under par. The desire to perform Shakespeare was laudable, but the question must be asked: how did they remember all of those lines when it was painfully apparent that hardly anyone involved knew what they meant? The two exceptions were Eddie Boroevich, a natural, commanding talent as Octavius Caesar, and Rachel Alt, a warm, dignified, and intelligent presence as Octavia. Indeed, whenever they were on stage, the pace noticeably quickened, Shakespeare's poetic language flew with grace and wit, and plot details became crystal clear by the simple alliance of understanding fused with inner life.
Sara Scott Harper's brown, cream, and burgundy-draped setting worked nicely to establish the play's Egyptian and Roman locales despite Preeshl's efforts to the contrary. But although they kept to the color scheme established by the setting, Shana Luther's vaguely Egyptian/Roman costumes looked like they had been created from assorted drapes, sheets, and pillowcases. The uncredited lighting, admittedly done with a very few instruments, had two levels: bright and not bright. Paul Jannicola and Kerria Seabrooke provided 20th Century Fox backlot music turned on and off with a noticeable click, and Ray A. Rodriguez received credit for fight choreography.
In her program notes, Preeshl expressed the relief and joy she felt when, a few days after the World Trade Center attack, she learned her belly dance. "I remembered why we need art - to celebrate our lives and allow those that have passed to live through us." A noble thought. Yes, these trying times do need art to energize, to restore, and to heal. But do they need "art" that is so blatantly self-serving?
(Also featuring: Sophia Bushong, David Arthur Bachrach, Ben Blake, Matthew Cade, Mark Chamberlain, Mary Ewart, Joseph Hamel, Amy Mapother, Ben Patch, Gabriel Portuondo, Alison Potoma.)
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Copyright 2001 Doug DeVita