Review: ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA at Southwest Shakespeare Company

The production runs through April 1st at the Mesa Arts Center’s Virginia Piper Theatre in Mesa, AZ.

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By the poetic elegance and grandeur of its text and the epic scope of its narrative, Shakespeare 's ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA offers directors and actors a cornucopia of interpretive possibility. The words and the meter offer the actor latitude for range in nuance and articulation. They need not be mumbled or bellowed; they should yield instead to expressive articulation. The shifts between forty-plus scenes ~ entries and exits from Egypt to Rome and back, from war rooms to sea battles ~ require attention to set design and clearly defining place and pace of action.

Click Here's staging of the play, co-directed by Producing Artistic Director Debra Ann Byrd and Tina Packer, falls short of such possibilities. Whether due to lack of resources or imagination, it is nevertheless a modest if uneven production, featuring periodic flashes of acting brilliance.

In this sequel to JULIUS CAESAR (albeit written eight years later and after MACBETH), Shakespeare returns to the Roman Empire. In the aftermath of Caesar's assassination, power over the realm has been divided among the Second Triumvirate of Octavius Caesar (overseeing the west ~Gaul, Spain, Italy, and Illyria) Antony (the east ~ Greece, Syria, and Anatolia). and Lepidus (the south ~ Carthage and the African coastline).

The drama revolves around two worlds of passion and turmoil: the lust for power and dominance among the heirs to Caesar's Republic and the tempestuous love affair between Antony, stationed in Alexandria, and Cleopatra, the sultry queen of the Nile.

Cynnita Agent brings refreshing vitality and elegance to her portrayal of Cleopatra. Her entrance is full of flourish ~ a sensuous and dramatically choreographed staging that immediately defines her royal persona. Flanked by her attentive ladies-in-waiting, Charmian and Iras (well-played by Elizabeth Broeder and Gracie Gamble), she spreads her Isis wings and immediately dominates the stage with a seductive flair that surely must bedazzle Rome's illustrious war hero.

She renders truth to the description of her classic beauties by Antony's devoted ally Enobarbus (Kenneth Chambers) ~ "Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety." She balances her character's temperaments almost seamlessly, shifting with seeming ease from coquettishness to imperiousness to wiliness.

If Aaron Angelo's portrayal of Antony were as nuanced and compelling as Agent's, the temperature of the play would have heightened to several welcome degrees, its intensity deepened. His military command might have appeared more believably authoritative, his bedazzlement, more striking; his intimacies more heated. The chemistry between him and Cleopatra and Antony might have been far more convincing rather than awkward. (If the heat of this romance is to be elevated, then there's much-needed work yet to be done by "intimacy coach" Rachel Finley).

What remains are the intrigues and clashes between Antony and Octavius (portrayed with appropriate self-assuredness and poise by Sam McInerney). In their ensuing struggle for dominance, the stage becomes a battlefield of swords (at times, a bit cumbersome) and wits. Antony returns to Rome and, in the interests of an unsteady alliance, weds Caesar's sister Octavia (Julie Teplik in a rather dull turn), in itself, a failed venture that results in Caesar's assault on the ill-fated lovers.

This production may serve as an example of where the parts are greater than the whole. There are a few performances that merit note.

Jim Coates, as always, gives bright and careful definition to his assigned roles. Such is the case in his turns as Caesar's loyalist, Dolabella; a soothsayer; and Canidius, one of Antony's generals. Yes, the actor wears his diverse coats well and is a man for all seasons.

Applause too goes to these distinctive performances: Matthew Zimmerer in a muscular turn as the treasonous Pompey; and Tom Magnum hitting a forceful triple as soldiers Philo, Scarus, and Menas; and Ian Nussle as a marvelously idiosyncratic Lepidus.

A final word about attention to detail. It matters, and where it fails, it is an unnecessary distraction from the rhythm of the play. To wit, but one example: The basket in which the deadly asp is brought to Cleopatra bears open handles. Surely, well before his arrival, the basket's carrier would have suffered the sting of the toxin.

ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA runs through April 1st at the Mesa Arts Center's Virginia Piper Theatre.

Photo credit to Southwest Shakespeare Company

Southwest Shakespeare Company ~®id=64&

Venue: Mesa Arts Center Box Office ~ 480-644-6500 ~ ~ One East Main St., Mesa, AZ


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