Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Antony and Cleopatra
Also see Gil's recent review of Escape to Margaritaville
Shakespeare sets his plot in motion after Julius Caesar is dead and Antony and Cleopatra have already met and fallen madly in love. Rome is now controlled by a triumvirate that includes Antony, Caesar's adopted son Octavius Caesar, and Marcus Lepidus, and the play begins after the intense passion between the title characters has begun to fade. Since Antony is away from Rome, this power trio is challenged by Pompey, and after Antony learns his wife has died, he returns to Rome to marry Octavius' sister to strengthen the triumvirate and prove his allegiance. Cleopatra doesn't take too well to that news and the plot plays out as conspiracies, jealousy, misunderstandings, and battles rage on.
Co-directors Tina Packer and Debra Ann Byrd deliver a production that is swiftly moving with a spare but clean set design by Tiana Torrilhon-Wood that uses minimal set elements and four columns that change colors, which helps to portray the shifting locals and moods in the drama. The 16-person cast are all fairly good, although some could project more and a few could enunciate better. Many of the cast play multiple characters, and Packer and Byrd do a fairly good job to ensure they create unique individuals. However, the costume designs by Maci Hosler could be clearer. While the ones for Cleopatra and Octavius are excellent, and the body armour is beautiful, the majority of the rest of the cast, many of whom play several roles, wear the same basic costume (a very odd light red shirt and khaki pants or shorts), which doesn't help to fully clarify which role they are playing at any given time. This is a fast-moving play with many scenes and changing locations so anything that can be done to make it less muddy for the audience is important.
As Cleopatra, Cynnita Agent is regal, noble and powerful in her delivery as she navigates her way through a range of emotions, from intense love to anger and jealousy. We clearly see from her portrayal that Cleopatra is a woman who seems like she always gets her way and doesn't exactly know what to do when she doesn't. Aaron Angelo is appropriately commanding as Antony. I only wish there was more passion and a deeper connection with each other in their portrayals. Instead, we don't quite feel or see the heat that drew them together, which detracts from clearly understanding the choices they make for the majority of the play. Fortunately, their final scenes are well played and, spoiler alert, their suicides are well staged with clearly thought-out line delivery and body language that makes you feel for them.
Sam McInerney is authoritative and direct as Octavius Caesar and more than holds his own against his somewhat older castmates. He has a great command of the character and the language and delivers a well thought out and excellent portrayal of this young leader. In supporting roles, Matthew Zimmerer, Jim Coates, Kenneth Chambers, and Tom Magnum all do great work. Elizabeth Broeder and Gracie Gamble are both quite good as Cleopatra's hand maidens. Mace Archer, Spencer Beckwith, Carlos Beltran, Rapheal J. Hamilton, Ian Nuzzle, Issie Ocampo, and Julie Teplik round out the cast with almost all delivering good portrayals.
Peter Bish provides an ambient sound design that works very well and Stacey Walston's lighting is moody and evocative. The props by Beau Heckman are great and Juliana Jackson's hair and make-up designs for Cleopatra and her handmaidens are excellent. While the fights in the production are basic and only last a few seconds, there is a slap between two characters that is incredibly forceful, realistic, and well choreographed by Rachelle Dart.
Like Romeo and Juliet, Antony and Cleopatra features a passionate but doomed romance that isn't exactly approved of by those around them. When you add in that this is also a historical drama that features famous people and there is death by an asp, there is a lot to like in everything that Shakespeare packs into this tragedy. While I wish there were more passion in this production, clearer costumes for the ensemble. and some slightly better performances, the double suicides still pack a punch and make a lasting impression of the tragic ending of the great love between Antony and Cleopatra.
Antony and Cleopatra runs through April 1, 2023, at the Mesa Arts Center, 1 E Main St, Mesa AZ. For tickets and information, please visit swshakespeare.org or call 480-644-6500.
Directors: Tina Packer & Debra Ann Byrd
* Member, Actors' Equity Association