A Shakespearean tale of one of the most famous couples in all of history performed by some of the best actors in town and directed by one of Seattle's best directors. You'd think it'd be a slam dunk success wouldn't you? Well, you'd be right. And even with a few moments that missed the mark for me and a show that could still use a little tightening, this almost three and a half hour production of "Antony and Cleopatra" from Seattle Shakespeare Company grabbed my attention and wouldn't let go.
Mark Antony (Hans Altwies), Octavius Caesar (Darragh Kennan) and Marcus Lepidus (Dan Kremer) all three rule over Rome after the assassination of Julius Caesar. But Roman General Antony is neglecting his duties to Rome and now spends his time in Egypt having been beguiled by the beauteous Queen Cleopatra (Amy Thone). Antony is called home by Octavius to help battle the notorious pirate Pompey (Mike Dooly) and once home is quickly married to Octavius' sister Octavia (Sydney Andrews) in order to solidify the relationship between the two leaders. But Antony, of course, still loves Cleopatra and thus begins one of the most tumultuous love stories the world has ever known.
The production is definitely a solid one which is no big shocker considering the talent behind it. Director John Langs has once again taken a very difficult and complex piece and presented it in such a way as to make it engaging and accessible. No surprise from the man who brought us the insanely brilliant "Hamlet" a few seasons back (yes, I'm still harping on that one). And while I felt the dance/battle sequences felt a little muddled and confusing and I wasn't quite sold on the device of introducing Octavius to us, Langs still shows himself to be a master storyteller and definitely knows how to paint a gorgeous stage picture. For instance his image of Cleopatra and her maids cradling the corpse of Antony high above the stage in the Queen's monument is going to stay with me for quite some time.
And as I said, the cast for the most part is superb. Altwies and Thone not only command their armies but the stage. It's very difficult to look anywhere else once these two get going and the two together create a chemistry and tension that is palpable. The arcs and levels they take their characters through are nothing short of genius. Kennan too takes Octavius beyond the petulant boy and gives him a wonderful honesty. Kremer, though not having a lot to do, turns in a fine performance and one of the best drunk scenes I've seen. Dooly takes his blustering and multi-faceted pirate and runs away with it making him a joy to watch. And I loved Terri Weagant and Allison Strickland as the loyal maids to the Queen with their seductive yet thoughtful ways. The one character I didn't shine to was Andrews as the pawn-like Octavia. She was saying the pretty words but didn't get across the meaning and intent behind them like I got from the others.
Speaking of getting that intent, I have to call out Charles Leggett as Antony's loyal follower Enobarbus. Not only some of the clearest and understandable of Shakespearean text I've heard but he also infused his character with such humor and thoughtfulness. This is one of the best things I've seen Leggett do and that's saying something.
Really just an excellent way for Seattle Shakes to start off their season. Yes, it's long but not to worry, the time flies by. But then how can it not when you have Altwies and Thone in the leads. They could have taken out all the politics, betrayal and war and just read from the phone book and it would have probably been just as hot. Real life married couples usually don't have that much chemistry on stage together. I guess they're just the exception that proves the rule.
"Antony and Cleopatra" from Seattle Shakespeare Company performs at the Intiman Playhouse through November 18th. For tickets or information contact the Seattle Shakes box office at 206-733-8222 or visit them online at www.seattleshakespeare.org.