Zestless Zoe

I WILL BE CLEOPATRA: AN ACTRESS'S JOURNEY by Zoe Caldwell (Norton), 160 pages, $33.99 cloth. Rating: NNfour times a broadway.


I WILL BE CLEOPATRA: AN ACTRESS’S JOURNEY by Zoe Caldwell (Norton), 160 pages, $33.99 cloth. Rating: NN

four times a broadway tony win-ner, actor Zoe Caldwell has lots of stories to tell, some of them with a Canadian flavour. But there’s little spark in I Will Be Cleopatra, which recounts Caldwell’s early years in Australia, her growing reputation as a classical performer in England and appearances on Broadway and Canadian stages, finishing with her 1967 appearance at Stratford opposite Christopher Plummer in Antony And Cleopatra.The most interesting thing Caldwell has to say is that her job is to keep people awake and in their seats, which isn’t actually very interesting. Most of the rest is cliches, like how observing people around her gives her insights into character and the human condition.

There is, however, some legitimate name-dropping — she worked at England’s Stratford with a young Albert Finney and vets Charles Laughton and Edith Evans, among others — and the occasional entertaining anecdote. Canadian names appear, too (Kate Reid, Bill Hutt, director John Hirsch), but they’re mentioned and then left behind.

There’s potential in the first section, in which Caldwell describes her involvement in the start of the Australian national theatre. But even here we get bare bones and little meat. It’s all exterior facts, with few emotional insights or warmth.

Maybe, since she’s a fine actor, she brought those qualities to her presentations of this material to audiences. The book is the basis of public lectures Caldwell delivered in New York City.

On the page, it’s all too dry.

Write Books at susanc@nowtoronto.com.

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