Review: Contemporary Music Enhances the Classic Tale of Sexual Obsession in WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE'S ANTONY & CLEOPATRA
William Shakespeare's Antony & Cleopatra is rarely produced in Southern California, and it may be because the genre-defying play is one of the Bard's most complex, perhaps most often seen as a sequel to Julius Caesar. Though historical facts are somewhat stretched, there is no doubt that its heroine is a leader of men and well-known as an object of male sexual desire. Its complexity, however, may be the source of its appeal as well as its undoing.
But thanks to director Gloria Gifford, who retains Shakespeare's text while augmenting the proceedings with a contemporary and very soulful song score in the current production at Grey Studios in NoHo, the overall addition of the much-needed modern sensibility through music makes the complicated plot easily understood, even while adding in moments of sheer levity. Just imagine Anthony and his troops starting off the show by lining up and singing "Super Freak" by Rick James, as their way to describe Cleopatra and you get the idea.
Filled with romance, passion, sex, heartbreak, the fascination of royalty, war, politics, and the epic sweep of history, the play centers on one of history's most celebrated love stories of Antony, a general and triumvir of the Roman Republic who defied his Emperor and the woman for whom Antony was willing to risk all, the Macedonian usurper of the throne of Egypt, the mighty Queen Cleopatra. These two were so overcome by their love and sexual need for each other that their fateful pairing, while incredibly hot and intense, was doomed to be their downfall.
In order for a stage production to accomplish authenticity between the lovers, two very special and highly connected actors must take on the title roles and make their epic physical chemistry palpable. And with the incredibly hot sexual chemistry between Chad Doreck and Lauren Plaxco on full display from the moment Antony and Cleopatra meet, you will find yourself sitting on the edge of your seat waiting for each of their reunions after the demands of politics and war force their frequent separations. You definitely will not be disappointed, and I can guarantee that the sweet smell of the rose oil used during one of the most erotic moments between the two will remain in your senses long after the play ends.
Other outstanding supporting players at the performance I attended included the powerful presence of Haile D'Alan as Enobarbus, Antony's most devoted friend who is so loyal and so trusted that he is able to comment freely, even when he feels critical of Antony. And he has much to be critical of, for he can reason in situations when Antony's sense of reason deserts him. His commentary frequently forwards the action of the play and expresses the mood of Antony's troops who begin to wonder whether Antony is still the type of leader they should be following after a stunning defeat due to his adoration of Cleopatra clouding his mind in battle.
Also of note is George Benedict as Caesar; not Julius with whom Cleopatra had an affair before her involvement with Antony but his grandnephew. Entering with his purple caped soldiers in tow, Benedict commands the stage with authority as he sets Antony up to fail in a war against him. You see, this Caesar is aware of Antony's dalliance with Cleopatra and in order to form an alliance, forces Anthony to marry Caesar's mousy and subservient sister Octavia (Kelly Musslewhite), who somehow remains oblivious to her husband's dual life across the Mediterranean. Antonio Roccucci does an excellent job of embodying the persona of Cleopatra's Eunuch servant, Mardian. Kudos also go to Cleopatra's costume design by Lauren Plaxco, Lucy Walsh and Gloria Gifford, which starts off incredibly revealing and proceeds to change more magnificently as time passes.
Please note that many of the roles are double cast, with each performance's cast announced at on an insert in the printed program provided when you check in. And while I may not have seen others who take on the main roles, I am sure Ms. Gifford has held them to the same performance excellence. I truly wish the song score had been included in the program so I could share it with you to fuel your imagination about the production!
William Shakespeare's Antony & Cleopatra, the classic play with music, directed and executive produced by Gloria Gifford, produced by Jade Warner, Lauren Plaxco and Chad Doreck for Jamaica Moon Productions and The GGC Players, continues at Grey Studios, 5250 Vineland Ave. in North Hollywood 91601 on Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 and Sundays at 7:30 p.m. through December 30. Dark on December 24. Tickets are $30 and may be purchased at the door prior to each performance or in advance by calling (310) 366-5505 or online at www.tix.com.