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A CurtainUp Connecticut Review
Antony & Cleopatra

Egypt, thou knewest too well my heart was to thy rudder tied by the strings, and thou shouldst tow me after. — Mark Antony
Kate Mulgrew and John Douglas Thompson
Hartford Stage's new production of William Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra isn't your mother's version, or any version you might be expecting. Director Tina Landau's sexually charged interpretation with a futuristic look thanks to Blythe R.D. Quinlan's stark, geometric set and Anita Yanvich's colorful and almost-space-travel looking costumes, breathes new life into the classic, but as your mother might have told you, looks aren't everything.

The play, based on the passion of Roman Mark Antony and Cleopatra, queen of Egypt, isn't one of Shakespeare's best, to begin with, so infusing it with some new life isn't a bad idea, but in this rendition a modern look and fast-paced energy aren't enough to hide some other flaws.

First, there isn't much chemistry between Kate Mulgrew and John Douglas Thompson who play the lovers, despite the emphasis on sexual tension. They say the lines, and go through the motions of a man and woman driven by passion and lust, but we're not convinced. Neither one of the characters seems all that desirable any way.

Thompson, who's earned a well deserved reputation as one of our best interpreters of Shakespeare (as well as O'Neill's The Emperor Jones), is not at his usual riveting best as Antony. He seems confused and lacking in backbone at times, though it's not apparent why. Mulgrew does a nice job of writhing around on her royal chaise in horny anticipation of Antony's return from Rome, jealous, even of the horse on which he sits, but she doesn't look the part of Cleopatra, somehow, and isn't convincing as the mighty queen of the Nile competing for Antony's affections with Octavia (Kenrda Underwood), sister of Octavius Caesar (Scott Parkinson, who also is unconvincing. He's not the forceful emperor you might have in mind).

The Roman soldiers' armor resembling Star Trek uniforms only further reminds us of Mulgrew as Captain Janeway (a role she played in the TV spin off Star Trek: Voyager) instead of the mighty Egyptian queen leading her army into war. The battle scenes are nicely choreographed and lighted on the newly refurbished stage which allows for a strip of water down the middle to represent the Nile. The device interrupts the flow of the action, however, as glass covers are removed and repositioned to allow the actors to walk in and across the water which is mopped up during scenes)

Modern also clashes with classic and even brings some laughs, not intended, when a stretcher and modern ropes and hardware are used to hoist an injured Antony up on the sharp angled metal set that otherwise effectively evokes images of the ancient pyramids and the blazing desert sun.

Yanvich's colorful African-motifed garb for the Egyptians and Cleopatra's attendants Charmian (an engaging Kimberly Hebert Gregory) and Iras (Chivonne Michelle Floyd), along with explosive, drumming music by Linday Jones and Landau's staging of some of the action in the house combine to create a presentation that has striking visual impact. If only looks were everything.

Most effective on the interpretation of the content is Landau's discovery of humor in many scenes. Standing out is Jake Green playing a reluctant, fearful messenger delivering some news an angry Cleopatra doesn't want to hear.

It's a combination of some things that work well and others that don't, but this rendition, if not the one your mother knew is at least is different.
Antony & Cleopatra
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Tina Landau

Cast: Kate Mulgrew (Cleopatra), John Douglas Thompson (Antony) with Alexander Cendese, Kimberly Hebert Gregory, Sean Allan Krill, Leroy McClain, Christopher McHale, Juliio Monge, Scott Parkinson, Keith Randolph Smith, Tony Yazbeck with Freddie Lee Bennett, Chivonne Michelle Floyd, Jake Green, Kevin Green, Michael Gregory, Joseph Kamay, JP Qualters, Stephen Sheffer and Kendra Underwood
Scenic Design: Blythe R.D. Quinlan
Lighting Design: Scott Zielinski
Assistant Lighting Designer: Adam H. Greene
Original Music and Sound Design: Linday Jones
Costume Design: Anita Yavich
Fight Director: Rick Sordelet
Wig Design: Tom Watson
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes with a 15-minute intermission
Hartford Stage, 50 Church St., Hartford
Evening performances are Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday at 7:30 pm and Friday and Saturday at 8pm. Matinee performances are Sundays and selected Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2 pm.
Tickets are $23 to $66 with a limited number of $10 “Ten Spot” tickets available for all performances and can be purchased by calling 860-527-5151 or by visiting
Oct. 8-Nov. 6, 2010
Review by Lauren Yarger based on performance of Oct. 13, 2010
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