Antony and Cleopatra

Article excerpt

Presented by the Stratford Festival of Canada at the Tom Patterson Theatre, Stratford, Ontario. May 28-September 27, 2003. Directed by Martha Henry. Set by Allan Wilbee. Costumes by Allan Wilbee. Lighting by Louise Guinand. Sound by Todd Charlton. Fights by James Binkley. With Peter Donaldson (Antony), Diane D'Aquila (Cleopatra), Paul Dunn (Octavius Caesar), John Dolan (Lepidus), Wayne Best (Enobarbus), Timothy Askew (Eros), Ian Deakin (Maecenas), Paul Soles (Agrippa), Andy Velasquez (Pompey), Linday Prystawska (Octavia), Daniela Lama (Charmian), Margot Dionne (Iras), Bernard Hopkins (Mardian), Aaron Franks (Soothsayer), Tim Campbell (Diomedes), and others.

Veteran actress Martha Henry directed an anti-heroic, almost anti-romantic Antony and Cleopatra, one in which the character flaws and judgment errors of the play's legendary figures constantly evoked an aging, decadent world driven more by cynical desperation than passionate lust. Certainly there was onstage chemistry between the leads, Peter Donaldson and Diane D'Aquila, but both were far past their "salad days," and had a tired, harsh quality that always reminded us of the tenuous nature of their relationship. In their corresponding messenger scenes, for example, D'Aquila's comic questioning turned shrill, while Antony's savage whipping of the messenger was exceptionally irrational; at these and many other moments in Henry's production, Antony's rebuke of Cleopatra revealed both:

   when we in our viciousness grow hard,
   (O misery on't!) the wise gods seel our eyes,
   In our own filth drop our clear judgments, make us
   Adore our errors, laugh at 's while we strut
   To our confusion. (3.13.111-15)

Henry's clear, anti-mythological focus on the relationship of Antony and Cleopatra, and on character in general, was greatly enhanced by the close confines of Stratford's smallest venue, the Tom Patterson theatre, and by Designer Alan Wilbee's simple costumes and spare set. The Patterson's narrow thrust stage effectively presented domestic and military scenes through just one main structure, a steel pyramid, which became a ship during the sea battles and Cleopatra's vault for Antony's death scene. Eight smaller, flexible pyramid shapes then became everything from Cleopatra's massage parlor to rigid columns used for the meeting of the "three pillars of the world." Costuming was also very simple, as Romans wore short, generally white hair with blue and green robes, while Egyptians had thick black wigs with costumes of earthy reds and oranges, turquoise and gold. Though the cultures were clearly distinguished, the audience's eyes were always directed towards the substance of the characters' motives rather than towards spectacle of any kind.

Examined closely; very few of these motives seemed heroic. Octavius, especially, was an emperor with no courage, the petulant "boy" constantly mocked by Antony. Lepidus too had little personality, while Agrippa was a cynical old codger with a political eye on Octavia, and a bawdy ear during the "barge she sat on" speech. Pompey, played by Andy Velasquez, one of Strafford's young romantic leads, did have some Latin passion as he planned for war, but alcohol rather than prudence or wisdom directed him to a passive peace. Octavia herself openly refused even the show of romance in marrying Antony, which of course discredited the regret she showed upon hearing of Antony's return to Egypt. …