- Antony and Cleopatra
- By William Shakespeare
- Produced by Shakespeare Theatre Company
- Directed by Michael Kahn
- Reviewed by Tim Treanor
Forget all you’ve heard about Antony and Cleopatra, the great romantics. Forget all that claptrap about Antony as a love-addled cat’s-paw for the seductive Cleo. Throw it in the ash heap of history. Instead, believe Bill Shakespeare and Michael Kahn. Antony (Andrew Long) and Cleopatra (Suzanne Bertish) are political allies who cement their bond with great sex. They are much too self-absorbed to love each other, or even to know what love means.
Seeing this play as a sequel to Julius Caesar (with which it is running in rep) clarifies it in startling ways. Antony here is a hard-drinking party boy who lies as easily as he breathes. The current production of Julius Caesar lays the groundwork for these character notes, showing him staggering to meetings bleary-eyed and head-heavy, and delivering the funeral oration with such Nixonian deviousness as to bring gasps of delight from the savvy Washington crowd. In this production, his constant, extravagant praise for his Egyptian mistress is so overblown as to be comic, but Cleopatra, who has no use for the truth, is more than satisfied with it.
And what of Cleopatra? Here, she is Diva Cleopatra, a mature woman (Cleopatra was about 39 when all this happened) so prone to over-the-top self-dramatization that it is impossible not to like her. Her inability to deal with the truth is the only genuine thing about her: she threatens a messenger (Scott Parkinson, doing good work) who gives her bad news, and rewards him when the news magically turns better. In this role, Bertish, like Long as Antony, is wonderful: a character who is really and truly false.
Do they love each other? Is the Pope Roman? Antony, relieved by the death of his loyal wife, goes to Rome to patch things up with Octavius (Aubrey Deeker) and promptly forgets about his Egyptian queen. When Agrippa (Dean Nolen, playing a Roman hero as a conniving bureaucrat) suggests that the newly-widowed Antony marry Octavius’ sister (Kaylie Morris), Octavius reminds him of Antony’s relationship with Cleopatra. But this is no barrier to Antony, who airily remarks “I am not married, Caesar: let me hear/Agrippa speak further.” Agrippa does, and Antony is soon related to Octavius by marriage.
Antony, Octavius and Lepidus (Ted van Griethuysen) then meet a rebel force headed by Pompey (Craig Wallace, playing the role with lip-smacking relish), and negotiate a peace. A huge, riotous, absolutely hilarious party follows, in which Lepidus gets completely blotto on competitively-drunk bowls of wine. van Griethuysen, widely-recognized as one of the Washington area’s best dramatic actors, here gets a chance to show his comic chops, and they are out of this world. (He is also very funny in a snake-bearing cameo at the end of the play.)
The party after a good negotiation is always better than the party after a good war, in part because there is no stench from dead bodies to interfere with the drinking. Nonetheless, you can see the war in Octavius’ eyes even at this peace party, when he drinks his bowl of wine reluctantly, and thereafter declares the party at an end. Sure enough, in the fullness of time he breaks the treaty, jails Lepidus and turns his army on Pompey. Antony, recognizing what’s up, dispatches his wife to negotiate with her brother and high-tails it back to Egypt – not for the consolation of Cleopatra’s love, but for her Navy.
Beyond the performances previously mentioned, there is some excellent work which contributes to the absolute clarity of this gimlet-eyed production. Dan Kremer is wonderful as Antony’s friend and aide Enobarbus, a lively and complex fellow. It is a pleasure to listen to Robert Jason Jackson’s big voice as Cleopatra’s majordomo Alexas. It is also pleasant, and instructive, to see Kryztov Lindquist’s soothsayer, who had predicted Julius Caesar’s doom, as part of Antony’s household now, four years later. Peter Stray is delightfully earnest as Cleopatra’s eunuch Mardian, and Cleopatra’s ego-driven effort to seduce him is very funny. Deeker, a fine actor, does interesting work with Octavius, making him cautious and decisive at the same time. As with Julius Caesar, there is strong ensemble work, and the production elements, though much more subdued here than in the other play, work effectively.
But what really works is the ocean of cynicism in which this play swims. The great warriors and leaders, Octavius and Antony, are shown to be no more than great grabbers of power. The great lovers, Antony and Cleopatra, are shown to love mostly themselves. Shakespeare, who saw much death in his time, knew that love and war could not co-exist, and it is wonderful to see this insight recognized with such clarity of vision today.
- Running Time: 2:50 minutes, including one intermission.
- When: Antony and Cleopatra is running in rep with Julius Caesar, and so the schedule is irregular. Anthony and Cleopatra runs Tuesday, May 20, June 3 and 17 and July 1 at 7.30 p.m.; Wednesday, May 21, and June 4 and 18 at 7.30 p.m. and July 2 at noon and 7.30 p.m. ; Friday, May 16 and 30, and June 13 and 27 at 8 p.m.; Saturday, May 24, June 7 and 21 and July 5 at 8 p.m. and May 31 and June 14 and 28 at 2 p.m.; and Sunday, May 18 and June 1 and 15 at 7.30 p.m. and May 25, June 8 and 22 and July 6 at 2 p.m.
- Where: Harman Hall, 610 F. Street NW, Washington D.C.
- Tickets: $23.50 – $79.75. There are discounts available for seniors and students. To order call 202.547.1122 or go to the website.