Road Less Travel Productions publicized its production of Shakespeare’s Antony And Cleopatra as the first in this region in over fifty years. In those intervening decades, A&C has been an important vehicle on the English speaking stage. The nearby Stratford Festival itself has given audiences four productions of A&C since its founding in 1953.
One reason for its regular revival elsewhere is that it provides a damn good role, a title role at that, for experienced actresses offering opportunity to play both passion and power. One critic described Cleopatra as Shakespeare’s most womanly character in a canon of maidens and matriarchs. Kate Mulgres is presently performing the role in a well received production in Connecticut. Others who have recently tackled Shakespeare’s Cleopatra on stage or on camera have included Frances de la Tour, Janet Suzman, Jane Lapoirtoire, Kim Catrall and both Redgrave sisters, Vanessa and Lynne (and both opposite Timothy Dalton’s Antony).
Shakespeare’s script comes in under the wire of RLTP’s mission to develop and present works by Western New York playwrights since this is billed as an adaptation by Jon Elston, the company’s playwright in residence. The idea of letting loose Jon Elston on the legend of the Roman governor general and Greek empress of Egypt is enticing. (Equally exciting was the news that Kelly Meg Brennan and Dan Walker would have the title roles. More power to RLTP for shaping shows to show for market before even they go to rehearsal.)
Elston’s best scripts are propelled by the cyclical momentum of conspiracy pursuing paranoia chasing conspiracy. Detailing the political and romantic ploys of Shakespeare’s epic characters with complexities of contemporary psychology would seem like a task tailored for Elston.
What RLTP has given audiences is a protracted version of the original, one would guess, shortened it for both production economy as well as to sustain an audience not often tolerant of a show longer than a movie’s run time. RLTP’s twelve actor cast struts just over two hours on a unit set.
Instead of a salvo of trumpets, paparazzi flashbulbs indicate the arrival of Antony. Egypt comes across as if an exclusive club rather than a Mediterranean empire. Almost everyone wears sunglasses. These are the start-of-play clues that our trip is not to the distant past but to the closer present.
Elston’s cutting favors scenes in which the male characters plan grand battles and plot personal vendettas, first against others then each other as the Roman forces implodes in on itself. The shortening deprives us what territory or advantages are at stake in these fights but we are treated to lots of male posturing, prideful and attitude heavy, with Antony as the alpha dog.
A male focused A&C, where testosterone runs like the Nile, could be dramatic but is a very different theatrical equation than Shakespeare’s. As a result, Cleopatra herself functions mostly as a witness to the boy talk and not as an empirical power herself. She waits on Antony just as her servants wait on her. When Cleopatra is with Antony, even on state occasions, she is always hanging on him. The private dialogue between Cleopatra and Antony is staged as either pre- or post-coital conversation. Sexualizing characters adds dimension that lifts them off the page however here this is the only dimension provided to Cleopatra.
Dan Walker is well suited to Antony in this interpretation. He balances a range from gentleman to warrior, with intelligence and understated humor… something like an Americanized James Bond. Walker’s physical stature and strength are used to advantage. Scott Behrend has staged a memorable scene when, after receiving bad news, Antony grabs the messenger by his lapels and lifts him overhead. As the shorter man scrambles away, Cleopatra, standing behind on a raised platform, embraces Antony around his neck then slithers down the entire length of his tall frame with pole dance expertise. If you collaged these two moments… the bad guy lifted like a piece of trash, the sexy girl behaving like trash… it could be used as the poster graphic for the action adventure movie Behrend and Elston seem to aspire to.
Film makers Tarantino and Bruckheimer and Peckinpah seem to have been sitting on one of Elston’s shoulders during the writing of this script while dramatist Shakespeare sat on the other. While subtracting from the source, there could have been enhancement from those other influences… or best yet, more of Jon Elston’s originality… in the resulting script.
Who might like Antony And Cleopatra: The many first timers wanting introduction to this Shakespearean script should check this out.
Antony And Cleopatra (through November 14) starring Dan Walker, Kelly Meg Brennan, Nathan Winkelstein, Jay Pichardo, Rolando Gomez, Sarielys Matos, Diane Curley, Xavier Harris, Barry Williams, Peter Jaskowiak in Jon Elston’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s drama; directed by Scott Behrend for Road Less Traveled Theater; at Market Arcade Film & Arts Centre, 639 Main Street; roadlesstraveledproductions.org or (1-800-745-3000).
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Photo Unseated: Dan Walker hovers over Kelly Meg Brennan in Antony And Cleopatra.