Antony and Cleopatra, Harford Stage, Hartford, CT 10/7/10-11/7/10
Reviewed by Becca Kidwell
From the start of the Antony and Cleopatra, Kate’s performance is filled with passion and abandon. Running in bare-footed with a sword, anyone who has seen many of Ms. Mulgrew’s performances realizes this is not the calm, controlled persona of Kathryn Janeway, Elizabeth Seton, or Janet Eldridge. Cleopatra is a woman who is one of the most powerful rulers in the world and yet is controlled by her lustful appetite for a man who can never be completely hers: Antony. Her strength and vulnerability are played out in her faithfulness to Antony and her jealousy of Antony’s wives. Her performance evokes lust, humor, rage, sensuality, and pathos that compel you to be drawn into her plight. The energy that she puts into her performance meets and sometimes exceeds some of the soldiers and dancers and does not stop until the snake kills her. With the wildness of her character combined with a beautiful long flowing wig and voluptuous costumes, she appears more youthful and free than some of her roles from twenty years ago (if only we all could “youth-en” in that way!). I hope we continue to get to see her versatility as the years go on. As for the actress herself, Ms. Mulgrew was extremely gracious after running around for three hours to take the time to sign my program and allow me to thank her for her magnificent performance as well as her previous work.
As for the rest of the production, it was fabulous! The entire cast is strong (including approximately 4-6 students) and provides a very human experience that betrays the labels of “good” and “evil”; Kendra Underwood’s portrayal of Octavia epitomizes the snare that most of the characters face as pawns in a political game. John Douglas Thompson mirrors Kate Mulgrew’s strength and vulnerability. He demonstrates that Antony was a strong leader, but his desire for Cleopatra is stronger. The casting of Steven Parkinson as Octavius Caesar is perfect. His youth and brashness contrast with Antony and Lepidus’ stolid natures; he is the only one of the triumvirate who is ready to fully claim the role of emperor.
The set design and staging provide an intimate and stark production that allows the audience to focus on the action and the language. Many modern Shakespearean productions become overindulgent in making the performance “relevant” and lose sight of the story and the language; this production balances the modernity with the classic story. The production is reminiscent of Julie Taymor’s film of Titus Andronicus. The sparse representative scenery provides a clear view of all of the action regardless of where you are sitting. The lavish colors of Cleopatra’s kingdom stand out against the black and white sparseness of Rome. The action in the upstage area reminds the audience that the scenes move concurrently with their foreign counterparts. The music and dancing emphasize the visceral nature of warring kingdoms. Although the plot is one of Shakespeare’s more difficult to follow if you have not had a classical education, the staging and performances impart a powerful story of politics and passion that brings the audience to its feet. 10/10/10. TNETG.
Photo: Kate Mulgrew and John Douglas Thompson
photo by T. Charles Erickson