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Antony and Cleopatra ~ Folger Theatre

Jordan Wright
October 19, 2017
Special to The Alexandria Times

A moment of flirtatious play between Mark Antony (Cody Nickell) and his Cleopatra (Shirine Babb). Photo by Teresa Wood.

A moment of flirtatious play between Mark Antony (Cody Nickell) and his Cleopatra (Shirine Babb). Photo by Teresa Wood.

“Kingdoms are clay,” warns Antony to his beloved Cleopatra in the opening scene of Antony and Cleopatra.  Even the Soothsayer foretells their downfall and the untimely demise of the lovers.  But dire prophesies do not dissuade the ego-centric Antony from fulfilling his desires, nor us from enjoying this lightly condensed version of one of Shakespeare’s most lyrical plays.  And though both Romans and Egyptians tended to heed the warnings from mythological Gods and Goddesses, what the heck?  They were human, after all, notwithstanding their respective royal bubbles.

A meeting of Rome’s leaders, the triumvirate. Pictured left to right: Robbie Gay (Lepidus), Dylan Paul (Octavius Caesar), Cody Nickell (Mark Antony), with Chris Genebach (Agrippa) looking on the proceeding. Photo by Teresa Wood.

A meeting of Rome’s leaders, the triumvirate. Pictured left to right: Robbie Gay (Lepidus), Dylan Paul (Octavius Caesar), Cody Nickell (Mark Antony), with Chris Genebach (Agrippa) looking on the proceeding. Photo by Teresa Wood.

From the get go Antony knows his love for his lusty queen is doomed, yet he is so besotted, so incapable of making intelligent decisions, that he ignores the sage advice of Octavius Caesar and his military leader Lepidus to abandon his pursuit of Cleopatra.  With one foot in Egypt and the other in Rome, he is utterly conflicted.  Love, or country?  It’s complicated – especially to those lost in lust.

Performed in the round with a revolving circular platform on center stage, the production is intimate, energetic and action-packed.  Director Robert Richmond calls Tony Cisek’s set design “gladiatorial”, which makes for a perfectly suited space to view hyper-electrifying of combat and romance as emotions swing to and fro like an amped up pendulum.

Mardian (John Floyd) and Charmian (Simoné Elizabeth Bart) tend to their Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra (Shirine Babb) in Antony and Cleopatra. Photo by Teresa Wood.

Mardian (John Floyd) and Charmian (Simoné Elizabeth Bart) tend to their Queen of Egypt, Cleopatra (Shirine Babb) in Antony and Cleopatra. Photo by Teresa Wood.

Shirine Babb’s Cleopatra is ruthless and fierce yet with a sensual nature that challenges Antony to meet her impossible demands.  It’s a formidable counterbalance to Cody Nickell’s fiery, bombastic, delusional Antony and evident in their playful love scenes that skew modern (we don’t feel as though we’re hanging around in 40 BC), as well as adding punch to their wittily flip, and ferociously bruising, quarrels.  As two of the most powerful figures of their time, their impetuous decisions and recurrent contretemps (Are they getting along today, or not?) affected whole nations and the future of the known world.

Cleopatra (Shirine Babb) gives comfort to her dying Mark Antony (Cody Nickell) . Photo by Teresa Wood.

Cleopatra (Shirine Babb) gives comfort to her dying Mark Antony (Cody Nickell) . Photo by Teresa Wood.

In this vivid portrait of two lovers, both rulers and conquerors, we see two megalomaniacs locked in battle for dominance while vulnerable to their unbridled passions.  Whether it’s a battle scene executed in dance form by the soldiers or a love scene framed by a silk-draped bed, Costume Designer Mariah Hale gives us diaphanous, gem-colored gowns for the ladies with a glittering, golden cloche for Queen Cleopatra, and leather-girded and metal-studded togas with silken scarlet capes for the men.  Dramatic scene-enhancing moods set by Adam Stamper on sound design and Andrew F. Griffin on lighting.

Highly recommended.

With Simone Elizabeth Bart as Charmian; John Floyd as Mardian; Robbie Gay as Lepidus and Dolabella; Chris Genebach as Agrippa; Nigel Gore as Enobarbus; Nicole King as Iras and Octavia; Anthony Michael Martinez as Soothsayer and Eros; and Dylan Paul as Octavius Caesar.

Through November 19th at the Folger Theatre at the Folger Shakespeare Library, 201 East Capitol Street, SE, Washington, DC 20003.   For tickets and information call 202 544-7077 or visit www.Folger.edu/theatre.

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