The Seattle Shakespeare Company opens its 2012-2013 season with “Antony and Cleopatra,” Shakespeare’s sweeping epic that picks up where “Julius Caesar” left off. It depicts the love affair between Roman Gen. Mark Antony (Hans Altwies) and Egyptian Queen Cleopatra (Amy Thone), set against the background of war and ever-shifting political allegiances in the Mediterranean world during the approximately 15-year period following the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BC.
Director John Langs, whose accessible take on “Hamlet” garnered much acclaim last year, once again makes Shakespeare’s larger-than-life personages relatable to our modern selves by focusing on the irresistible passion Cleopatra inspires in Antony.
Emblematic of the collision of the rational, disciplined Roman culture with the sensual allure of Egypt, an internal war rages within Antony as he is torn between his love/lust for Cleopatra and his duty as a general and co-ruler of Rome, alongside Octavius Caesar (Darragh Kennan) and Lepidus (Dan Kremer).
Langs’ choice of Seattle actor couple Altwies and Thone to play Antony and Cleopatra helps bring this clash of cultures down-to-earth (reminiscent of the casting of another husband-wife team who depicted the same lovers on film.)
Sultriness all around
Sultry Thone commands whenever she is onstage. All eyes are on her as she ensnares Antony in the web of her ever-changing drama.
Altwies plays Antony as a straightforward soldier, without the guile or the desire to resist Cleopatra’s emotional manipulations.
As he did with the character of Hamlet, Kennan manages to infuse humanity into the character of the otherwise-cold-blooded politician Octavius.
Other notable performances include Charles Leggett as Antony’s conflicted right-hand man Enobarbus, Mike Dooly as hot-headed Pompey and Allison Strickland as Cleopatra’s sensual handmaiden, Iras.
Thone’s and Altwies’s physical beauty and Pete Rush’s stunning (and often figure-hugging) costumes for Thone add to the many visual pleasures of this sensual production.
Jennifer Zeyl’s abstract, minimalist set features a pit filled with the reddish sand of Egypt (made of ground-up walnuts). In one scene, a platform suspended above the stage provides a striking setting for Cleopatra and her handmaidens and, later, for Cleopatra to cradle her lover’s corpse.
A different interpretation
Some choices puzzle. Mollye Maxner choreographs the battle scenes as modern-dance sequences; while interesting, they feel out-of-step with the rest of the production. Actors are not trained dancers; these scenes and an opening dance sequence detract.
During Octavius’ initial entry, he delivers his lines while performing pushups, jump roping and other athletic feats. While Kennan’s fitness is impressive, these antics did little to further the story.
Even with a more-than-three-hour running time, the action proceeds at a good clip for the most part. Langs chooses to linger on the scenes elucidating the sensuality of the Egyptian court and Thone and Altwies’s sultry caresses, while some of the more complex political machinations at work get somewhat short shrift.
Seattle Shakespeare Company’s “Antony and Cleopatra” plays through Nov. 18 at the Playhouse at Seattle Center. For more information, go to www.seattleshakespeare.org.
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