There is a line midway through Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra that neatly sums up the plot: “We have kiss’d away kingdoms and provinces.” Recently added to A Noise Within’s inaugural season, Antony and Cleopatra takes full advantage of the new theater, conjuring Imperial Rome, luxurious Egypt, and battles on land and sea. But the real action is between the title characters, two of Shakespeare’s most famous tragic lovers.
Unlike the kids in Romeo and Juliet, who merely risk a family feud and some nasty swordfights, Antony and Cleopatra hazard whole dynasties and armies in their single-minded search for love with one another. The difference between middle-aged and first love, (married) directors Geoff Elliott and Julia Rodriguez-Elliott seem to say, is really only about the consequences of the passion. Love blinds, and binds, old and young with equal strength.
Tony and Cleo have a dynamic, stormy, sensual good thing goin’ on in Egypt that is interrupted by events in Rome. As Antony, Geoff Elliott throws off the gray wig and bent body of the servant Malvolio in the fall ANW production of Twelfth Night; here he is a full-blooded rake, a take-charge, lusty, Bill Clinton–like head of state whose political smarts are equal to his sexual appetite.
Antony is fully matched by Cleopatra (Susan Angelo, who plays her more bratty Amy Winehouse than calculating Sarah Palin) in passion, bravery, and brains. Their sexy dalliance is cut short by the death of Antony’s wife and his trip back to Rome; bloodless bad boy Octavius Cesar (Max Rosnak) weds Antony to his sister, hoping to tie Antony to him, but Antony can’t help heading back to Egypt like a moth to the flame. Agrippa (Greg North) and Enobarbus (Robertson Dean) love Antony too much to give him a heads-up on how bad this will be for his political career.
Antony’s and Cleopatra’s passion spawns epic tragedy, with war as a backdrop for the wrenching deaths of the two lovers and the triumph of Rome over Egypt. It’s a long play, clocking in at close to three hours, but this production, put on by a mostly strong cast, has the twin Shakespearean virtues of spectacle and psychology, and is inexorable in its movement from light to dark, from love to death. It moves from us shaking our heads at the impetuousness of two grownups who should know better to respect for their towering passion for each other. The twin poles of the play are exemplified by Amin El Gamal as the eunuch Mardian. He nearly steals the show in the beginning with his cross-dressing antics, yet towards the finale, veiled all in black, delivers some of the most haunting, tragic lines in the play.
Antony and Cleopatra
In repertory at A Noise Within
Closes May 13
3352 E. Foothill Blvd., East Pasadena
anoisewithin.org, 626.356.3100 x 1