BWW Reviews: ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA - All Hail The Queen
When one thinks of productions of Antony and Cleopatra, one immediately thinks of the actresses that have played the Egyptian beauty in productions past: stage's Dame Helen Mirren, Dame Judy Dench, the newly announced Eve Best, and the big screen versions with Theda Bara, Vivian Leigh, and the legendary Elizabeth Taylor.
Add one more to the list...Cynthia Beckert.
Beckert not only inhabits the role of Cleopatra, she has gone to the open house, put in a bid, sailed through escrow, and moved in. She owns it! From the moment Beckert steps onto the stage in her peacock and emerald green chiffon gown (designed by costumer Noelle Raffy) and dances a flowing pas de deux (choreographed by Jeff Wallach) with her Antony (played by the dashing and handsome Shad Willingham), Beckert has the audience by the nether-regions and does not let go. For the entire 2-plus-hours of the production, we as the audience feel the pain, passion, heart-ache, and over-the-top celebration of life (and death) all through the solid guidance of Beckert's Cleopatra.
This reviewer would be horribly amiss if I did not mention many of the other solid players within the production as this production is over-flowing with the riches of such a solid acting and artistic ensemble.
As mentioned before, Shad Willingham plays a matinee idol that harkens back to a Clark Gable or Tyrone Power. In this production, set in the fascist world of the 1930s amid the clash of cultures and a treacherous world of shifting alliances, he looks good. Fortunately, his acting chops are well versed within this production and he is a formidable opponent for Beckert. Willingham's Antony is a strong anchor amidst the whirlwind of Beckert's emotional Cleopatra.
The element and setting of this production also brings unique and surprising ingredients for the audience to witness.
One being casting: The role of Octavius Ceasar (played by Justin Michael Terry) is usually a character played by an actor who is a tad...softer. Here, Terry gives a more malevolent turn within the role and is allowed to bring some anger and heat that is not often seen. Other stellar performances include Ross Hellwig as the messenger Eros. A brilliant bit of casting as the director has melded two roles into one allowing Hellwig to bring all of his talents to this one role as a fully-fleshed out character. Not to give too much away, but the suicide/death scene with Hellwig and Willingham (choreographed by Fight Choreographer and Co-Associate Artistic Director, Brett Elliott) is one of the most touching I have seen in a great while. Elyse Mirto's Octavia and Jerry Lloyd's Agrippa bring in the darker elements of the play with sinister touches. Both are solid presences with every hand gesture or raised eyebrow placed for a specific reason. These two actors could give a master class on subtlety.
The other element being the artistry of this particular production: In addition to the afore-mentioned fight choreography, costumes, and dance choreography, the eyes and ears are treated to a cavalcade of images and senses within this production. Emmy Award-winning composer, Christopher Hoag, has composed a score that lavishly depicts the emotional and political climate of the period. The set (designed by Erik D. Dias and decorated by wife Holly Diaz) immediately transport us to the time and place of this production. It is our first visual we as the audience see and it sets the tone perfectly. The two, two-hundred pound Egyptian statues are a striking visual indeed. Lighting Designer Leigh Allen brings in some gorgeous elements with topaz, lavenders, burnt umbers, and reds to compliment the set and costume designs and Property Mistress T. Theresa Scarano supplies the cherry on this artistic sundae with her period accoutrement of maps, paintings, and posters.
Kingsmen Shakespeare Festival, for its 18 years as a flourishing presence within the Southern California arts scene, has offered an Intern/Apprentice program where college students from all over the country come and spend a summer with the company and are educated in the elements of acting, costuming, and stage craft by the professional staff of the company. Many of the acting apprentices take on roles within the company. Stand out performances include Cheryl Ann Gottselig as the Soothsayer (who will also be playing the role of Octavia closing weekend) and Robby Wagner as Mardian.
Of course, nothing would be possible without a Captain of Quality to man this floating barge down the proverbial Nile River. In award winning actor/director John Slade, this is most definitely the case. This reviewer witnessed and experienced the heart, soul, and every ounce of passion from this director in this production of Antony and Cleopatra. Bravo to him and the company as this is a very accessible and understandable production that needs to be seen!
Antony and Cleopatra continues through August 3rd at Kingsmen Park on the campus of California Lutheran University, 60 W. Olsen Road in Thousand Oaks. Guests should bring low-back lawn chairs or blankets to sit on and dress warmly. Admission is $20 for adults and free for those under 18. For information or advance lawn box reservations, call 805-493-3014 or visit http://www.kingsmenshakespeare.org.