The last human worth three hours of anybody's time was William Shakespeare and he's on tonight, in his gorgeous effort, "Antony and Cleopatra." And it really is a relief to turn to a star for a change, from the paltry inept imbeciles who seem to regularly engage most of our attention as super-this and super-that.
He and his beautiful baby -- this play -- commence at 8, on Channel 26, though it may require six minutes for the national waxy ear to tune itself to glory. But have no fear; true magic truly works, though he did not actually win any important prizes. None that were ever dreamed up were worth the bother of his acceptance, and in this he differs from common writers.
It's a question -- with him -- of superior intelligence, such fire and craftsmanship as never was seen before or since, and such emotional riches as our languages (which he took from frogs croaking and turned it to a splendor that even in our present swamps has an echo) never knew before or since. And (for his mercy was as broad as his genius) he never bored the socks off anybody.
The more accomplished the actor in any Shakespeare play, the more he would approve our order here: that virtually everything is owed to that author, and you will be extremely pleased tonight to say the best thing that can be said for any actor, that he performed well enough to let the glory of the script come through.
Actor. Actually, actress. Jame Lapotaire is Cleopatra, no longer young and sinfully bewitching. It's a rare word she muffs or mutes, and in this she excels Antony, who occasionally misses or garbles one in his fevor, for who among us is perfect? He is certainly more believable than we have any right to expect.
Cleopatra herself pretty well does in any actor playing Antony. His legs bestride the ocean, you know, and by the time she has rattled on for a bit about the supernatural merits of Antony, it's a blue-eyed wonder that any actor in Christendom can be found to brave the role.
Colin Blakely not only dares undertake one of this most difficult characters of the theater, but is believable as one who turns tail at a sea battle while at the same time convincing us he could swing men, armies and empires like a little swagger stick. You can believe him as a lover too, and that is very difficult to manage with 100 million guys sitting out there in the audience just waiting to observe he don't look all that hot to them . i
The acton of the play switches back and forth all over the globe and it's a little confusing until you get the hang of it, so the play has commonly been edited through the centuries to make it work on the stage. Often without success.
It's a wonder that tonight we see the play virtually untouched since it was written, and the few deletions of the original script are either improvements or else not important. Except for one: Cleopatra meets Caesar with a list of her jewels and treasure, and calls on her treasurer to attest the accuracy of her list. He, loutish accountant, says it's not all that accurate a list since Cleopatra has in fact retained enough treasure to buy Egypt six times over, and the queen is properly enraged at this ungrateful sniveling.
So keep in mind tonight that along with her other wiles, the queen is not entirely honest declaring her income. But then nobody ever said she was the ideal Sunday School teacher.
A masterpiece of a play handsomely, even superbly, presented -- it is hard to ask anything more of the jiggly medium. Through no fault of television, some of the beauty of the poetry is lost unless the lines are fresh in one's mind. Poetry is always impossible when spoken, any anyone can attest who has sat through many poetry readings.
There may still be time, however, for intending viewers to phone the office today and say the teeth fell out or some other emergency has arisen. This will give time to get the printed play from the library or bookstore or old school textbook and read it before curtain time at 8.
What one does tomorrow -- if the teeth really do fall out while viewing this splendid work tonight -- can be thougth of later. I personally would not trust the fourth act, and by the time we get to "Put on my crown," there may not be a jaw intact in America.