Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Red Balloon betwixt Anthony and Cleopatra

I watched Hou Hsiao-hsien's "Flight of the Red Balloon" with the Librarian last Saturday, at the IFC. It was visually delicate and observant, but dragged, especially towards the end. Juliette Binoche was marvellous as the harried single mother.

Theater for a New Audience (a mouthful of a name!) performs Anthony and Cleopatra at The Duke on 42nd Street. The staging was inventive throughout. A tiled pool at the front of the thrust stage was pleasure pond, military aid, mirror of fate, ditch, and river. The paneled doors at the back of the stage opened for dramatic entrances and exits, revealing a corridor of power, and closed for impressionistic depictions of land and sea. In the battles scenes, the doors opened to show silhouettes of soldiers. Above the doors was a high playing area, from which the dying Anthony was lowered, laboriously, into the arms of Cleopatra in the tomb.

The acting was far less imaginative. Marton Csokas, playing Anthony, spoke as if he had a cold. Jeffrey Carlson, as Octavius Caesar, was shouting most of the time. John Douglas Thompson's Enobarbus had dignity and weight, but not tragedy. Laila Robins was a chameleon Cleopatra in the first half, but her variety narrowed dangerously in the second half. This performance reminded me how much the later part of the play depends on the acting of its two leads. Without brilliant actors, the second half dragged like a wounded snake (yes, it's an A&C cliche), and I felt relieved when Anthony and Cleopatra finally died. Randy Harrison, who plays the cutie in "Queer as Folk," was a creditable Eros. In soldier uniform, he looked appropriately young and vulnerable. After the performance, he walked past me just outside the theater, in a light-colored hood, with a female companion. He was shorter than I had thought.

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