Tarell Alvin McCraney reimagines Shakespeare’s classic in The Public Theatre’s production of Antony and Cleopatra.
The play tells of the scandalous love affair between the Roman general Mark Antony and the Egyptian queen Cleopatra and how their blind passion leads to their ultimate downfall and deaths. Mark Antony, Octavius Caesar and Lepidus are the joint rulers of the known world. Anthony, however, is captivated by Cleopatra and neglects his duties to spend time with her in Alexandria. This scandal creates a rift between Antony and young Octavius Caesar.
McCraney calls this piece “a hybrid, being both a tragedy and a history”. However, the audience may consider McCraney’s Antony and Cleopatra a hybrid for different reasons. The story revolves around a Roman general and an Egyptian queen, yet McCraney has chosen to transform Anthony into a French soldier and Cleopatra into a Haitian princess. The French speak with British accents while the Haitians speak in American creole. The setting is very ethereal with a blend of Calypso music filling the air amid the white draped fabric, Roman columns and pools of water. Haitian dancing, voodoo and some haunting vocals are also thrown into the mix. These choices present a lot of blurred lines, some of which meld brilliantly to captivate the audience and some with the dissonance of oil and water creating confusion for the average theatre goer.
Michael Thurber’s music under the direction of Akintayo Akinbode is a driving force in transporting the audience. It sets the scene, conjures panic, soothes and lifts spirits. Chivas Michael’s angelic vocals add great texture to stark scenes. Gelan Lambert’s choreography is intriguing and appropriate for the setting of the story, though it has some peculiar moments.
Joaquina Kalukango is perfect as Cleopatra. She bewitches not only Mark Antony but the entire audience as well. Kalukango gives Cleopatra the perfect blend of charm, insanity and seductiveness. Jonathan Cake’s performance of Mark Antony was strong though he induced some awkward chuckles from the audience during vulnerable moments. Samuel Collings gives a breathtaking performance as Octavius Caesar. Collings evokes a true depth behind every glance and is fascinating to watch even in the scenes where he is not the center focus. Most of the other company members portray 2-3 different roles throughout the show and each delivers their characters with newly defined complexity.While McCraney’s Antony and Cleopatra may leave the audience with mixed reviews it certainly breathes a welcome freshness into this 407 year old classic.
Review By: Staci Morin
Photos By: Joan Marcus