When the stage of the Connelly Theatre fills with dancers and revelers cavorting to loud Indian music before the action of Antony and Cleopatra has even started, if your first thought is that Shakespeare's play is going to be lost in an unwieldy concept the director doesn't know how to support, you're half right.
But when director Rebecca Patterson's production goes awry, it is not because of the concept, but in spite of it. The work of Patterson and her all-female cast in this production is shockingly conventional, the moments of Bollywood influence few and far between. The workmanlike, lackadaisical attitude toward the material would have benefited from more of Patterson's infusions of energy and color, not less of it. The performers seem game and energetic, the costumes, sets, and lights (by Sarah Iams, Abby Ranger, and Aaron Copp) suggest a plentiful palette of colors and images to work with, and Patterson's quick pacing and constant sense of motion (there's almost always something happening somewhere) provide plenty of energy for the proceedings.
But this potential is very seldom realized. There are occasional moments when Patterson's creativity is allowed to assert itself - a cleverly staged sword fight, for example - but these are few and far between. Her most successful moment is the final image of the evening, suggested (though not penned) by Shakespeare. When Patterson lets herself go and uses her concept to push the story forward here, it does prove effective.
For most of the show, though, the story of the torrid political love affair of Mark Antony (DeeAnn Weir) and Cleopatra (Maureen Porter) has very little edge. The dryness of some of the scenes is, perhaps, understandable, with a lot of talk about political maneuvering not always being the easiest information to convey in the best of circumstances. But the actors are faced with difficulty in communicating the story with seemingly every line - even the central love affair, one threatening the well-being of two nations, is surprisingly lacking in passion.
Much the same can be said of the rest of the production. With the exception of the touching performance by Shanti Elise Prasad, who plays Cleopatra's servant Charmian, the actors are generally unaffecting almost throughout. The most gripping scenes are the last two, and Porter, almost cool and businesslike earlier, gives an emotional and meaningful performance. But even getting there is difficult - the events leading up to those moments are so curiously staged and delivered that they're almost comic in their presentation. The contrast of comedy and tragedy there doesn't work.
That's a battle Patterson and her company are continually fighting in this Antony and Cleopatra. Though the final lines and images are almost strong enough to make the conflict a draw, the unintended humor is too frequent and the intended drama too infrequent to be successful here. Having a concept is fine, but if you can't (or won't) really go somewhere with it, there are other problems. The destination is present in this Antony and Cleopatra, but too much of the journey is missing.
The Queen's Company