Saturday, May 30, 2015

ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA • Shakespeare Festival St. Louis

Shakespeare’s sweeping account of the ultimate power couple -- Marcus Antonius of Rome, and Cleopatra, the queen of Egypt, is getting a thrilling staging by Shakespeare Festival St. Louis, celebrating its 15th season of free Shakespeare in Forest Park. The grand scope of the play is captivating, and under Mike Donahue’s fluent direction, the legendary characters within it are grounded, real and tragically flawed.

Antony (Jay Stratton) is having to be practically dragged from the arms of his lover in Egypt, Cleopatra (Shirine Babb), back to Rome where he is one of a trio of public officers, and his fellow triumvirs have threats from within Rome and threats from abroad to deal with. For his absence from Rome and the resentment it garnered, an attempt to strengthen the relationships among the triumvirs is made when Antony agrees to marry Octavia (Raina K. Houston) the sister of one of the rulers, Octavius Caesar (Charles Pasternak), who has his eye on increasing his own power, eventually declaring war on Cleopatra. The series of events that are set in motion test allegiances, fuel resentments and result in some really unfortunate misjudgments.

Jay Stratton (Mark Antony)
and Shirine Babb (Cleopatra).
Photo credit: J David Levy
The ardent love affair at the center of the play is dynamically driven by Babb’s portrayal of Cleopatra -- as vulnerable in her jealousies and regret as she is glorious in her power, and reckless in her manipulations. Stratton’s Antony, a cocksure ladies' man torn between his responsibilities in Rome and the indulgent pleasures he enjoys in Egypt, is seductively confident in war and romance, but hot-headed in retribution when he thinks Cleopatra has betrayed him. Charles Pasternak’s Octavius Caesar is pompous and belligerent as Antony’s foe, and Conan McCarty is eloquent as Enobarbus, Antony’s right hand with Moses Villarama as Eros, Antony’s devoted and put-upon messenger.

There are also several excellent performances from some of the area’s best, including Gary Glasgow as Lepidus, the third member of the triumvirate, Kari Ely as Charmian, one of Cleopatra’s lively handmaidens, Alan Knoll as Cleo’s eunuch consultant, Mardian, and officers Michael James Reed as Agrippa, and Reginald Pierre as Maecenas, both close friends of Caesar.

Photo credit: J David Levy

Scott C. Neale’s scenic design features five golden columns that beautifully reflect John Wylie’s lighting design, calling out the changes in location and mood. With sound design by Rusty Wandall, composer Greg Mackender lends strong vamps in Rome and the slightest hint of Middle Eastern-inspired music when the story is taken to Egypt, with appropriately creepy chords when an omen of music emanating from the ground bodes ill for Antony. The costume design courtesy of Dorothy Marshall Englis handsomely informs the different factions within the play, and there are also great special effects as water cannons spew up huge plumes on either side of the stage during the sea battle of Actium.

With pre-show activities that include a Green Show and terrific performances throughout, along with tasty treats and souvenirs to buy, you’re bound to have a great evening of top-notch theatre. Grab a blanket, a loaded picnic basket, and head to Shakespeare Glen in the park -- it’s playing until the 14th.

Kari Ely (Charmian), Raina K. Houston (Iras),
Shirine Babb (Cleopatra) and Jay Stratton (Mark Antony).
Photo credit: J David Levy

Written by William Shakespeare 
Directed by Mike Donahue 
Shakespeare Glen, Forest Park
through June 14 | tickets: FREE
Performances nightly at 8pm, except Tuesdays; 6:30pm Green Show

Shirine Babb* (Cleopatra), Kari Ely* (Charmian), Gary Glasgow* (Lepidus, Soothsayer, Clown), Raina K. Houston (Octavia, Iras), Ryan A. Jacobs (Philo, Soldier, Guard), Alan Knoll* (Mardian), Bernell Lassai III (Demetruis, Soldier, Guard), Matt Lytle* (Pompey, Proculeius, Canidius), Conan McCarty* (Enobarbus), Jesse E. Muñoz (Menas, Scarus), Charles Pasternak* (Octavius Caesar), Reginald Pierre (Maecenas), Michael James Reed* (Agrippa), Robert Riordan (Varrius, Gallus, Soldier), Jay Stratton* (Mark Antony) and Moses Villarama* (Eros). 
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Scenic design by Scott C. Neale; costume design by Dorothy Marshall Englis; lighting design by John Wylie; sound design by Rusty Wandall; composer, Greg Mackender; voice and text coach, Suzanne Mills; fight choreographer, Paul Dennhardt; stage manager, Emilee Buchheit; assistant stage manager, Lydia Crandall.

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