Her Again

9780062342843_p0_v4_s192x300     donald-trump-meryl-streep-02     I liked Meryl Streep better before I read Michael Schulman’s biography – Her Again: Becoming Meryl Streep. But then she delivered her hilarious impersonation of Donald Trump at the annual Shakespeare in the Park Public Theater Gala in New York City, and she is back as one of my favorites.

Schulman paints Streep as the actor doing her job, working hard at her craft, and he is clearly enamored of the Oscar star as he ticks off her talents and aptitudes; he slogs through anyone who has ever had a connection to Meryl Streep, with impressive name-dropping – Christopher Lloyd, John Lithgow, Robert De Niro, Joe Papp. Streep purposefully adapted herself to being what was expected, from the ditzy popular cheerleader, faking her way through high school with a tinkling laugh she had practiced or monopolizing all the leading roles at Yale graduate school, overshadowing her classmates, including Wendy Wasserstein and Sigourney Weaver.

One name, however, reaffirms her humanity and offers a glimpse into the real woman. Famous for his role as Fredo Carleone in the Godfather and his swan song in The Deerhunter, the late John Cazale was the love of her life. Surprisingly, she married Don Gummer six months after Cazale’s death.

The book ends with Streep winning her first Oscar for Kramer vs. Kramer. Although Schulman includes twenty-four pages of reference notes, Streep herself did not participate – Schulman thanks her in the Acknowledgments for “not throwing up any significant roadblocks.” Who she is when she is not performing is kept private, the way Streep wants it. To be fair, biographies are not easy to write – especially when the person is still alive. Let me show my bias when I say the only biography I ever really liked was Stacy Schiff’s Cleopatra.

Initially, Meryl Streep was a stage actress, honing her craft in Joseph Papp productions in Shakespeare in the Park, so her recent humorous portrayal of Donald Trump was in a familiar venue. The New York Times said Streep’s Trump was “more than credible … down to the pursed lips and low-hanging belly…She got the braggadocio-inflected voice, too, even while singing.”

It’s worth looking for on you-tube.

Related Review: Cleopatra: A Life

The Ides of March

The fifteenth of March wasn’t always prefaced with Beware. “Until 44 B.C., the Ides of March were best known as a springtime frolic, an occasion fit for serious drinking, like so many others on the Roman calendar.  A celebration of the ancient goddess of ends and beginnings, the Ides amounted to a sort of raucous, reeling New Year’s.  Bands of revelers picnicked into the night along the banks of the Tiber, where they camped in makeshift huts under a full moon. It was a festival often indelibly recalled nine months later.

In 44 the day dawned overcast; toward the end of the cloudy morning,  Caesar set off by litter for the Senate, to finalize arrangements for his absence. The young and distinguished Publius Cornelius Dolabella hoped to be named consul in his place, as did Mark Antony…”

…from page 124 of Stacy Schiff’s Cleopatra

And March 15th was changed forever…

For Thornton Wilder’s historic fiction of this famous day, check out the review for The Ides of March

For the review on Schiff’s biography of Cleopatra: A Life, check here

Cleopatra: A Life

In her biography, Cleopatra: A Life, Stacy Schiff clearly confirms that Cleopatra was no Elizabeth Taylor, but the Egyptian queen made up for what she lacked in beauty with shrewd intelligence and cunning intuition to get what she wanted – a diva after all.

Cleopatra: A Life is compelling and well-researched – with over 60 pages of notes and references – as well as a surprisingly easy read.   From teenage queen to the mother of Julius Caesar’s son, and finally to her torrid relationship with Mark Antony, Cleopatra is a competent ruler who successfully used her facility with languages, her grounding in Greek learning,  with her power and influence to protect and embellish her own holdings – for over two decades – longer than her ancestor, Alexander the Great.

By modern standards the civilizations in 50 B. C. were barbaric – intermarrying, killing off relatives to maintain power and land – not to mention the severed heads on display. Rome was all-powerful, always looking for another conquest,  and Alexander the Great’s progeny in Egypt, with the largest library in the world and excessive wealth, was on Rome’s wish list.  Cleopatra “made Rome feel uncouth, insecure, and poor…”

Despite Schiff’s overly precise description of the display of wealth in Cleopatra’s lavish entertaining – details worthy of a scriptwriter – she provides an amazing clarification of how it all really went down – before Hollywood.   You will gain a new respect for Cleopatra as a clever strategist and brilliant politician – not the “whore queen” labeled by prolific Roman writers – but certainly a queen to beware and a woman to know.

“We will remember that Cleopatra slept with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony long after we have forgotten what she accomplished in doing so, that she sustained a vast, rich, densely populated empire in its troubled twilight, in the name of a proud and cultivated dynasty… and was a remarkably capable queen, canny and opportunistic in the extreme, a strategist of the first rank…incomparable…”