Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Antony And Cleopatra by William Shakespeare

By Joe Straw

Wanting too much is always the curse of political couples that seize the processions of the ninety-nine per centers.  Things have changed little since 30 B.C. when Antony and Cleopatra’s lives played out like bad chess moves.  Those moves that eventually bungled their opportunities for world conquest.   

Having read Stacy Schiff’s “Cleopatra: A Life” recently, this was a grand opportunity to see Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra at A Noise Within, one of the most elegant and respected theatres in Los Angeles.  If you have not been to this theatre, go.  And while you are at it, make your reservations, take along a number of friends, ride the rails, and see this dramatic interpretation.  Dress up in Egyptian or Roman garb and make a day of it.

Julia Rodriguez-Elliott and Geoff Elliott co-direct Anthony and Cleopatra at A Noise Within Theatre and this show is a spectacle as promised. Of course, as a method of observation and trying to understanding the craft, I provide notes one can use or discard at one’s discretion.

One can’t help but breath deeply when entering the theatre and taking a look around at Tom Buderwitz’s marvelous Scenic Design. There are ropes dangling from the rigging, from center stage to the four corners.  On the stage are broken columns or partial columns, depending on your perspective. Everything is slightly off, not quite right. (Kind of like the streets in Los Angeles.)  There are two or three levels on stage and those stages are all are put to good use during the production.  

“This is going to be interesting!” I said to myself.  And as I said this, an attendant approaches and cautions audience members that actors will be flying in from all directions, be prepared.

Fair warning.  House rules.  Be prepared.

Let’s take a moment and jump right in.

“Take a good note, and you shall see in him
The triple pillar of the world transform’d
Into a strumpet’s fool;” – Philo (Nathan Turner) 

Things don’t look good for our star-crossed lovers circa 35 B.C. who are the pre-supposed rulers of the known world.  Mark Antony (Geoff Elliott) and Cleopatra (Susan Angelo) are together surfeited in Egypt.  They live together as though married when in fact Antony is married to Fulvia who lives in Rome.

Cleopatra is sure she knows what she wants but has to consult her soothsayer for confirmation.

“You shall be more beloving than beloved.

You shall outlive the lady who you serve.

You have seen and proved a fairer former fortune.
Than that which is to approach.”  - Soothsayer

The Soothsayer (Nick Crandall) foreshadows things to come. But in the frivolity of the times, Cleopatra does not take heed of these warning.  (Why is it no one but the audience listens to the Soothsayer?)  Antony and Cleopatra continue to make merriment, not understanding the tragedy that awaits them while they party.  

The second messenger arrives from Rome being extremely patient to get his message out to Antony who is verbally jousting with Cleopatra.

“Fulvia thy wife is dead.” Second Messenger

Mark Antony only laughs at his fortunate turn of events and tries to break the news to Cleopatra.  But Cleopatra is busy scheming to keep Antony with her. And try as he might Antony has a hard time telling his love that Fulvia, his wife, is dead.  (To interrupt your love in dialogue is a grand miscalculation.)  So by the time he gets it out, Antony must leave for Rome.  

But death in the family is not all that awaits Antony in Rome. Caesar has his sights on taking complete control of Antony and his country.  

“This is the news:  he fishes, drinks, and wastes
The lamps of night in revel; is not more manlike
Than Cleopatra; nor the queen of Ptolemy
More womanly than he;” - Caesar

Ouch and not kind. But Caesar is not prone to sit back and let the world spin by itself. He is finding ways to rule and also wants more power at his fingertips.  He understands he does not rule the seas and he would like an allegiance with Pompey (Christian Rummel) and he can only do this with Antony’s help.  

Back in Egypt Cleopatra luxated wants Antony to return as quickly as possible.

And while all this fussing is going on, Pompey, Menecrates, and Menas are finding ways to soften up Antony and Caesar so they can command a bigger portion of the world pie. (These characters are slightly different than A Noise Within’s version of Antony and Cleopatra.)

Later, in the House of Lepidus (William Dennis Hunt), as Caesar and Antony have words about the state of Rome, Agrippa (Gregory North) suggests that Antony marry Octavia, Caesars’ sister.

“To hold you in perpetual amity,
To make you brothers, and to knit your hearts” – Agrippa

Antony thinks this is a good idea as a means to secure his power.  He marries Octavia (Angela Gulner) and, in the dead of night, asks the Soothayer if it was a good idea.

“Say to me,
Whose fortunes shall rise higher, Caesar’s or mine?” – Antony

“Caesar’s” – Soothsayer. 

Not a good sign.

Meanwhile back in Egypt, a messenger has brought news to Cleopatra that Antony has married Octavia.  Cleopatra nearly kills the messenger.

Near Misenum, Caesar uses Antony to negotiate with Pompey and his men to form another alliance.

But back at the Castle, in Egypt, Cleopatra asks about the fairness of Octavia.  To which the messager replies, and I paraphrase, she is not that good looking.

“She creeps:
Her motion and her station are as one;
She shows a body rather than a life,
A statue than a breather.” - Messenger

Caesar, not satisfied with his limited power, has Pompey murdered and then goes after Antony.  Octavia asks Caesar to pardon Antony but Caesar will not hear of it.  He tells her that her husband, Antony, is in the arms of Cleopatra.

“No, my most wronged sister; Cleopatra
Hath nodded him to her.  He hath given his empire
Up to a whore;” - Caesar

The rest is Shakespeare’s version of history.

Geoff Elliott as Mark Antony does a fine job as the misguided warrior. A man who would rather have it all rather than all of some. He wants to control Egypt as well as Rome but does not take the steps to necessitate that action. He is a misguided “party animal” who does not take care of business first and then make love to Cleopatra second. Elliott is fantastic in the role but one would have liked to see him break boundaries at the flip of a switch.  I know why but I want to see the why.  Also, having secured Octavia as his wife, one would have imagined a more powerful Antony; instead we see a beaten man as he approaches the Soothsayer.  It’s a moment one would have liked to seen both ways, to choose the better moment.

Susan Angelo as Cleopatra plays her as “one whacky chick” in this Shakespeare’s version. Gone are the strong queen-like character traits, the treachery inherent in her living breathing sole, and villainy associated with her character that made her famous around the known world.  Angelo’s portrayal seemed like a petulant housewife that always wants her way but doesn’t get it.  Still, Angelo made a strong choice, and one cannot fault an actor for making a strong choice. In the end, and in hindsight, her portrayal made a lot of sense, and her vision grew as the night went on.  Still, one can’t help but want to see this role in the magnificent glory it was thought to be, or not to be.

Max Rosenak as Octavius Caesar had some nice moments on stage, but one would like to see this character more developed. As history has it, he was a puny man, kind of sickly, and worried about a lot of things. But he must have been an educated man, listened to the right people, and negotiated his way around the Republic to create the Roman Empire.  There are more levels to this character and one believes Rosenak will find them as the show progresses in its run.

William Dennis Hunt as Lepidus and Rustic provides a fantastic look as both these two characters.  As Lepidus, he is wise and thoughtful and as Rustic, in what appeared to be green face, he provides the means to an end for our heroine in a most glorious way. Hunt is an actor who gives his all.

Christian Rummel does a fine job as Pompey, master of the seas. He too must weigh his options in whether it is best to make allegiance with Octavius or Antony. Pompey stands on his ship weighing those options in clothing that looks “early pirate”. Nevertheless, this was a very fine performance for this role and Scarus as well.

Ken Merckx plays Demetrius and Dercetus, friends and wise counsel to Antony.

Gregory North plays Agrippa, who has high hopes for Antony and his relationship to Caesar.  His allegiance is to Caesar and ultimately to destroy Antony.  There are more ways to shows this and something can be added to the character.

Robertson Dean plays a devious Enobarbus who knows well enough to stand on the winning side, or to jump ship when Antony’s ships are stalled dead in the sea. Although outspoken, he is clever enough to see the finality of Mark Antony and guilty enough to know in his heart that he has betrayed a good friend.  Dean was marvelous!

Raphael Goldstein played Eros and Nathan Turner portrays Philo and Schoolmaster.

Nick Crandall was mesmerizing as the Soothsayer.  And as all soothsayers do, he masks the truth to our heroes or maybe they just don’t hear him correctly, or maybe he is just too vague for them to understand that he is giving away the end of the story.  The audience members are witness to the outcome of his verbal visions and see the truth in his wisdom. Why do the characters wave him off?  Have they accepted their fate? He also played Thidius.

Angela Gulner was fine as Octavia but needs much more to plead for the life of her husband, Antony.  Was it a marriage of convenience or was it love?  As I artist, I would always chose love.

Philip Rodriguez plays Taurus/Varrius and Steve Weingartner always does a nice job at ANW playing both Menas and Dolabella.

The supporting cast were made up of Thaddeus Shafer as Proculeius, Jill Hill as Charmian, Diana Gonzeales-Morett as Iras, Christopher Karbo as Diomedes, Dane Biren as Abused Mess and Seleucus, Kristina Teves as one Attendant and Sara Cebellos as another Attendant.

Amin El Gamal as Mardian, the eunuch, has a wonderful off color semi-flat, semi-sharp tone to his singing voice. And as eunuchs are prone to pratfalls, he should be careful of the draperies on the floor. Gamal was wonderful as Mardian.

Nick Broderick and Kabin Thomas were the Roman Messengers and both did outstanding jobs on this particular night.  These were wonderful performances.

Geoff Elliott and Julia Elliott-Rodriguez did a marvelous job directing.  There are enough visual images to delight one for some time. The hoisting of Antony onto Cleopatra’s balcony is marvelous.  The battle scenes were masterfully done. 

Still, one would like to get a better sense of the place as the characters move in and out of Octavius’ home, Cleopatra’s’ castle, Pompeys’ house, etc., out to sea, on the plains, it seemed a bit confusing at times. Some characters need more structure and depth with a solid objective to get them from one place to the next.    The armies need to march in a way that would frighten the hardiest of onlookers.  These are small things but one believes important things.

The production staff gets a round of applause as well. The Costume Design is by Angela Balogh Calin.  The Lighting Desing by Ken Booth.  The Composer is Laura Karpman.  The Prop Master is Renee Thompson Cash.  The wonderful Fight Choreography is by Ken Merckx.  The Wig, Hair and Makeup Design is by Monica Lisa Sabedra and lended itself to a wonderful authenticity in its simplicity.

Stunning photography by Craig Schwartz! 

All in all Antony and Cleopatra is a marvelous show.  Wow! Run!

Take a friend with the last name of Martin and show them how badly misbehaved the Romans conducted themselves at that time.

This show runs in repertory through May 13, 2012.  Please check the link below for showtimes. 


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