Reviewing Theatre For Over 40 Years
A Noise Within Takes “Antony and Cleopatra” for a Spin
Note: Apologies for the late posting of this review, due to medical issues.
One of the joys of live Shakespeare is its variety. The Bard wrote characters with nuances people have been exploring for centuries, and placed them in settings which can be treated literally or figuratively. Directors and actors can let their creativity run amok, giving new insights to 400-year-old words.
Which makes A Noise Within’s new “Antony and Cleopatra” particularly worth watching. Directed by Artistic Co-Directors Geoff Elliott and Julia Rodriguez-Elliott, and starring Elliott, this version becomes less the great romantic tragedy often portrayed, and more the story of a weak-willed whiner who falls for a manipulative and hedonistic foreign queen. The loyalties they trifle with, and the devastation they invite become far more interesting, or frustrating, than simple star-crossed romance. Still, some will miss a nobler spin.
Elliott’s Antony is besotted and,while swept up in passion and overconfidence, makes decision after decision which cannot help but disturb his fellow Triumvirs – the Romans running the post-Julius Caesar world. He plays politics extraordinarily badly, and expects a loyalty from his followers he rarely gives any foundation. Through it all, Elliott’s Antony weeps and bemoans his lot in ways which trumpet his essential weakness so intensely one wonders he has any supporters left.
Susan Angelo gives Cleopatra a disproportionate sense of her own majesty – commanding and spoiled. She assumes her power over and manipulation of Antony will keep her safe, and her shock at her own downfall is as much about the sudden realization of powerlessness as it is a confirmation of romantic fatalism. This is a woman who must be in control, and cannot stand the concept of losing.
Backing these title figures, Max Rosenak makes Octavius Caesar strong, youthfully ambitious and driven to lead. Christian Rummel’s Pompey looks a bit much like a refugee from “Pirates of the Caribbean”, but makes an emotionally stark contrast to the orderly Roman sensibilities of his enemies. Jill Hill, Diana Gonzalez-Morett and Amin El Gamal make interesting work of Cleopatra’s handmaids and personal eunuch, while Roberson Dean, as Antony’s right hand man, displays all the nobility his master lacks.
Costumer Angela Balogh Calin gives a decent impression of Roman military and civilian garb (though some of the armor doesn’t fit very well) and of the comparatively diaphanous clothing of the Egyptian nobility. Only those piratical followers of Pompey give one pause. Tom Buderwitz’s simple but brilliant scenic design allows a multi-level use of the theatrical space subtly evocative of a classic Shakespearean stage.
In the long run, it is almost refreshing to see Antony not as a betrayed but essentially heroic figure, but as a man impressively unfit for leadership. The play is long, but the ANW’s new theater seats are comfortable. Sit back and enjoy this very classic, rather sumptuous riff on history – not particularly historically accurate, but filled with entertaining drama. The “character map” in the program will be a welcome help to the uninitiated.
What: “Antony and Cleopatra” When: through May 13, in repertory with two other plays; 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays, 2 p.m. matinees Saturdays and Sundays Where: A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd. in Pasadena How Much: $42 – $46 Info: (626) 356-3100 ext. 1, or http://www.ANoiseWithin.org