I WILL BE CLEOPATRA by Zoe Caldwell

I WILL BE CLEOPATRA

An Actress’s Journey
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KIRKUS REVIEW

Four-time Tony Award–winner Caldwell’s engaging memoir of her apprentice years.

Born in Melbourne in 1933, daughter of a theater-loving plumber, young Zoe had considerable success in Australian radio and theater. She began globe-trotting in 1958, when she joined England’s Shakespeare Memorial Theatre at Stratford-upon-Avon. During three seasons (including a tour of the Soviet Union), she rose from small parts to play Cordelia opposite Charles Laughton’s King Lear, observing along the way such revered elder company members as Michael Redgrave, Laurence Olivier, and Edith Evans, as well as gifted young contemporaries like Ian Holm and Albert Finney. Caldwell’s comments on the craft of acting are shrewd, her assessment of other performers appreciative but not uncritical. She watched Laughton carefully, she writes, “because in each performance he played one scene definitively. But only one, and it was never the same one.” She did more Shakespeare in Canada, toured Australia as Saint Joan, and joined the brand-new Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis, arguing with several directors along the way when the strongminded actress disagreed with their interpretations. She made her Broadway debut subbing for a vacationing Anne Bancroft in The Devils and valiantly played Tennessee Williams at his lowest commercial and critical ebb; Slapstick Tragedy won Caldwell her first Tony. By 1967, when she appeared at Stratford, Ontario, opposite Christopher Plummer in Antony and Cleopatra, she was in love with producer Robert Whitehead (now her husband) and was a seasoned professional who so shamed an audience of noisy schoolchildren when she broke character to reproach them that they called out, “Please continue, Cleopatra.” “We now live in a highly technological world,” she writes in closing. “But when communication is still made directly by living people standing in front of other living people . . . anything can happen.”

Some good gossip, a few great parties (one from dusk till dawn for Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy), lots of intelligent observations about acting and the stage: a treat for fans of theater autobiography.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-393-04226-X
Page count: 160pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2001