Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires

Regional Reviews by Fred Sokol

Antony & Cleopatra
Hartford Stage

John Douglas Thompson and Kate Mulgrew
Director Tina Landau opens up Hartford Stage's already cavernous performance space for the most inventive rendering of William Shakespeare's Antony & Cleopatra one could imagine. The production is all over the place (Egypt, Rome, other European locales); and this is meant as a compliment. Starring Kate Mulgrew and John Douglas Thompson, this exciting production, continuing through November 7th, is state of the art.

The play begins after Julius Caesar has been assassinated and Mark Antony (Thompson) is now of three rulers in the Roman world. The others are Octavius Caesar—known as Caesar—(Scott Parkinson) and Lepidus (Christopher McHale). Antony has lost his wife, Fulvia. Now a fully smitten man, he cannot resist the allure of Cleopatra (Mulgrew) and so moves to Alexandria. But the empire is in trouble as Sextus Pompeius or Pompey (Alex Cendese) is rebelling. In an attempt to keep peace, Antony marries Octavia (Kendra Underwood), Caesar's sister. Cleopatra is both insanely jealous and furious, even if she understands that Antony does not love Octavia. Eventually, Antony goes back to Egypt.

Caesar is not pleased and wishes the worst for both Antony and Cleopatra. Antony battles Caesar who defeats him. Cleopatra sends a message, evidently from her tomb, that she is dying. As it develops, however, this is not so. The story continues.

Combining elements of tragedy, comedy, drama and romance, this is one play which defies classification. It is filled with emotional turns. The characters themselves are multi-dimensional, evolving, and fascinating.

Cleopatra, middle-aged male fantasy woman, is passionate, sexual, smart and outgoing. Do not try to read or anticipate her next move. Bold and experienced, she will employ many a strategy to control her lover. Seductive and on display with her emotions, Cleopatra is undeniably willful. Mulgrew embodies this woman with verve and fire in performance which is not easily resisted.

Thompson's Antony is compassionate, courageous and strong. He combines power and honesty. This special actor, acclaimed during the past two years for his performances with Shakespeare & Company in both Othello and Richard III, is highly disciplined and ardent.

The relationship between Antony and Cleopatra is loving and physical but flawed. Call it contemporary or call it representative of any epoch in time. It is real, imperfect, and fully intriguing. Gifted, mature actors drive forward with their obvious agitation. The level of performance is sometimes thrilling.

Landau, directing this show and collaborating with the amazing scenic design furnished by Blythe R.D. Quinlan, pushes the stage and the spirited action to the literal edge of the house seats.

The two incisive and pervasive veteran actors are supported by many skilled colleagues. Alexander Cendese as Pompey and Scott Parkinson as Caesar are each excellent. Cleopatra's court includes adept performers such as Charmian (Kimberly Hebert Gregory) and Iras (Chivonne Michelle Floyd).

Quinlan's design includes an upper level glassed-in component and symbolic water ... Scott Zielinski's lighting is, at times, almost blindingly appropriate. Anita Yavich's costumes are designed to reveal and, when suitable, entice.

Antony & Cleopatra, is, finally, a great deal to take in, decipher, and comprehend. Including rage, desire and forgiveness, the play runs an emotive gamut. One would not be far off the mark to recommend it as a play about love, life, and death.

Antony & Cleopatra continues at Hartford Stage through November 7th. For ticket information, call (860) 527-5151 or visit

- Fred Sokol

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