Walk like an Egyptian

Amy Danielson

 

Despite massive amounts of water invading the ancillary areas of the Guthrie Theater on January 2 from a leaky city water line, Antony and Cleopatra opened on-time and proceeded seamlessly, but for a couple of foofaraws beyond the company’s control. And so I must ask:

Theatergoers! Turn off your cellular phones, pagers and other electronic devices before the performance begins. At the Guthrie’s opening night of Antony and Cleopatra, two ignominious audience members made this horrendous faux pas even after a cautionary announcement. And please, if the phone does ring, quickly turn it off after the first instance! Nothing gets the remainder of the audience more irritated than hearing second and third rings. Nevertheless, in the face of these obstacles, the cast persevered with a solid performance. Let us begin with a quote:

“Some innocents ‘scape not the thunderbolt.” This is Cleopatra’s dire warning, voiced by Laila Robins. She has just received word of her beloved Mark Antony’s marriage to Octavia Caesar. And she is wielding a knife at the messenger. In this scene, one of the most passionate in the play, Robins gracefully transitions from one extreme emotion to the next: from blissful agony to choleric anger to, well, let’s call it twitterpation. She shines with the challenge of playing an Egyptian queen torn between love, deception and petulance. She acts with the poise of someone who thinks like Cleopatra, and thus performs as if she is incapable of flaw.

This production’s brilliantly colored set highlights bold features such as a large Roman mask (an overwhelming presence) and a sphinx, both looming large in the otherwise simple setñmostly a bare stage. This lack of set structure allows for movement and easy scene changes, which are constant and fluidñproducts of chaotic oscillations between scene locations. The set’s rigid lines and bold colors are imposing. In one striking scene, the dark aquas and greens of the sets spare walls frame an authoritative-looking queen as a door opens to reveal her surrounded by flaming torches. Only minor props are used, paralleling the simplicity of the set. Cast members set the sails of miniature boats ablaze to symbolize destroyed vessels in the war between the Egyptians and the Romans. In numerous scenes, Cleopatra and her women lie on the floor stretched over large white pillows.

Compared to the simple set, the costumes are far more intricate. From the men’s suits of armor to the ladies in their revealing kalasiris of a transparent white material, their heads crowned by black, braided wigs, the cast resembles the Romans and Egyptians of antiquity. Thankfully, the Guthrie opted to dress the cast in period costumes for this Shakespearean production.

Mark Antony is played by Robert Cuccioli. With a voice similar to Sean Connery’s (as well as the face of the actor in his youth), he offsets Cleopatra as a man who constantly questions himself. Although playing a much different character, he gives a sufficient performance, but not as powerful as Robins.’

Being one of Shakespeare’s most experimental plays, much of the language is of Shakespeare’s invention, yet the cast performs fluidly as if the language is their native tongue.

 

Antony and Cleopatra plays through Feb 24 at the Guthrie Theater, (612) 377-2224