Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Richmond has reconfigured the theater space in Washington's Folger Shakespeare Library with seating on four sides surrounding Tony Cisek's intermittently rotating circular platform. This highlights the glamor of the lead characters, whom the audience first sees reclining on a round bed while Cleopatra's servants bring them food and fan them with peacock feathers. The idea of the unreality of "performance" also comes through as actors sit in the corners of the space, waiting for their entrances, or play a scene center stage while other actors stand frozen.
Shakespeare's drama alternates between two stories: as Mark Antony wallows in luxury in Egypt as half of a co-dependent relationship with Cleopatra, the other two leaders of Rome, Octavius Caesar (boyish Dylan Paul) and warrior Lepidus (Robbie Gay), try to keep order and persuade Antony to do his job. Richmond has trimmed Shakespeare's text to a bare minimum of characters (10 cast members) and limited occasions for pageantry and warfare, although lighting designer Andrew F. Griffin has created a striking environment for a sea battle.
Babb is a commanding Cleopatra in Mariah Hale's elegant costumes and Tommy Kurzman's wigs: sometimes angry, sometimes determined, but always driven by her devotion to Antony. Nickell seems more passive, doing the minimum to maintain Antony's reputation in Rome but more interested in the satisfactions of his life in Egypt. He speaks respectfully of his wife who died in his absence, and marries Octavius' sister Octavia (Nicole King) for political reasons, but he demonstrates no real regard for any woman except Cleopatra.
Nigel Gore is touching and eloquent as Antony's supporter Enobarbus, who has the most famous speech in the play (describing the glory of Cleopatra's barge sailing down the Nile). He provides a weariness and sense of lived experience lacking in other parts of the production.