Antony and Cleopatra
Season 07-08 Season

Director's Notes:
Michael Kahn on Antony and Cleopatra

Staging Antony and Cleopatra and Julius Caesar is our second repertory in Sidney Harman Hall. While the Marlowe plays were a tool for audiences to meet a great playwright, we chose the Roman Repertory productions based on their thematic similarities. David and I thought it would be interesting to put the two together and see which characters function similarly in both plays in relation to the power structure or their profession. The melding of the two stories should provide a very interesting narrative.

Antony and Cleopatra is a difficult play to produce because of its complexity. Dramatically it is exciting because there is contention in every scene. It also presents questions of power, of leadership, of generational differences and the clash of two cultures.

There are a lot of plays that benefit from being illuminated in a certain concept, but I wanted to do these particular plays in period. Setting Love’s Labor’s Lost in the 1960s worked well because the issues of the play were not solely Elizabethan, but broader intellectual issues about writing and fads in society. The same goes for the way we translated Timon of Athens. I don’t think that play would have been helped if performed in togas. In fact, it would more likely have distanced an audience from its central issues of economics. For Antony and Cleopatra, the central issues are how you choose to live your life. It’s a play about relationships and politics, and being the most famous woman in the world whose lover gets in the way sometimes. I don’t think it would help to make Cleopatra look like any of the famous women of our time because you’d come with your own predisposed attitude. Done in period, you’re able to play each scene for what it is and let the play speak for itself.

It’s interesting that a playwright can write such complicated people as Antony and Cleopatra. They are seemingly so often petty and unable to concentrate on the important things, and, yet, Shakespeare celebrates the characters by giving them great speeches wherein they share with us their greatness, their ambition, their folly, their connection to the person they love and a profound sense of loss. Throughout the story we see their intensely temperamental, obsessive and undying love, their struggle with who they’re supposed to be and how they see themselves. Antony and Cleopatra’s actions are motivated by their feelings for each other, and, though they argue, the connection between them never waivers for very long. These clashes are the great movers of the play.

The thing that I find endlessly fascinating is the author’s relish in ambiguity. You can take Antony and Cleopatra as a celebration of the organization in Rome to finally clean up the world, or a celebration of personal life over the private one, and of the sensual and emotional world. At the same time, it can be a critique of passion or the ambitious and intellectual world. Shakespeare explains both and leaves it to us to decide.



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