through November 6, 2010
by Stacie Beland
Hartford Stage is offering a decadent performance of "Antony and Cleopatra," hallmarked by a rich tapestry of solid ensemble acting and stunning production value. With so many aspects of the production being so original, it's difficult to give credit where it's due.
Tina Landau's direction is spot-on. It resonates in the performances of the featured players, but is also visible in the performances of those characters who, under Landau's brilliant direction, remain wordlessly (but not silently) onstage. An example of this lies with Julio Monge's Soothsayer, who witnesses most of the dramatic action from the shadows. Monge never lets his focus waver even as the action shifts away from him. Truly, each and every actor's performance is layered with character development. Alexander Cendese's excellent portrayal of a frat-boy Pompey, Keith Randolph Smith's boisterous and ultimately repentant Enobarbus, Jake Green's much-maligned Messenger, and Scott Parkinson's simpering and snapping Cesar all deserve more praise.
John Douglas Thompson, as Antony, raises the bar for the ensemble. While careful not to outshine any other performance, Thompson sparks onstage. That spark never leaves, even as he is lying motionless onstage after meeting his inevitable end. Thompson perfectly balances clear recitation and honest character. His portrayal of Antony's actions and the emotions behind them were are such that probably each audience member can feel them.
As for Cleopatra, Kate Mulgrew's performance quality is up to the task, but more so than her physicality permits; she seems to push a youthful and impetuous Cleopatra. Her recitation and the sheer exuberance, however, make it an eminently watchable and enjoyable performance.
Every so often, a production comes around that reminds one what it is like to see a Shakespearean performance, instead of a performance of Shakespeare. This is that production. Pre-modern language is made modern, relevant, and eminently alive at Hartford Stage. This is a seamless balance of design, performance, and production that is simply not to be missed.