Corrections or additions?
This review by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the September 20,
2000 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Review: `Antony and Cleopatra’
It’s very likely that, had she lived in the 20th
Cleopatra would have featured in Andy Warhol’s fashionable coterie.
She was, to put it kindly, less well known for her deeds than for
being well known (in the biblical sense). In Shakespeare’s "Antony
and Cleopatra" she is the embodiment of physical love and desire
(even if we don’t see her "doing it" or even talking about
"doing it".) That there are no love scenes — save a kiss
— in this play about love, puts unusual demands on the two actors
who share title billing. He has the easier time of it being a liar
and constant from first to last; she is changeable and yet a charmer
from first to last.
How strange it is that the few stage Cleopatras I have seen failed
to harness the complex, compliant nature of the Egyptian queen? Three
years ago, the otherwise incomparable Vanessa Redgrave played her
at the Public Theater (in her London production) wearing 17th-century
bodice and pantaloons. With a cigarillo dangling from her mouth, she
blew smoke rings around her fellow players in a weird production that
had the Roman soldiers toting Tommy-guns in a Big Brother-ized
The New Jersey Shakespeare Festival in 1986 had Robin Leary as the
queen and a bevy of torsos from the inverted palm school of dance
turning on the heat beneath swaying papyrus leaves in an unwittingly
What could have those actors and their directors have been thinking?
Could it be that they could only see Cleopatra as the most theatrical
character in history, rather than as the most enigmatic and opaque
of all Shakespeare’s heroines? This New Jersey Shakespeare Festival’s
Cleopatra, played by a reedy and exotic looking Tamara Tunie, whatever
her shortcomings in plumbing the depths of Cleopatra’s duplicitous
nature, looks the part and plays it with an uncertainty that
befits her portrayal of the immature, impetuous "serpent of the
Variously gowned in gold lame, plum velvet, and green
leatherette by designer Miranda Hoffman, the grandly coiffed Tunie
gives us occasional clues that Shakespeare’s Cleopatra is as much
an actress as she is a fickle and spoiled woman. There is a lightness
in Tunie’s performance that gives the tragedy a bracing grace. And
isn’t that close to what Shakespeare had in mind? The question is
what director Bonnie J. Monte and her designers had in mind.
Tunie’s far from great — but also far from inconsequential —
portrayal is enhanced by Hoffman’s creations. Yet the costumes Hoffman
provides — black pants, boots, and leather jackets — for the
weaponless Roman men is a fashion statement that does not serve the
play well. Despite the fact that the good-looking Robert Cuccioli
(Broadway’s "Jekyll and Hyde") is a little too soft and fleshy
for this Alphabet City biker look, he gives a decent enough account
of Shakespeare’s warm, yet volatile hero. How much more attractive
a hero he would have been in basic Roman and/or Egyptian attire.
There is an unfortunate lack of chemistry between this Antony and
Cleopatra. Yet there is no lack of range in Cuccioli’s acting,
when it comes to demonstrating Antony’s gift of oratory, or his
moods from laughter to rage and from jealousy to pride. At best he
is natural and honest, and in marked contrast to the stilted
of many supporting players. Exceptions in supporting roles are Abigail
Lopez as the bubbly Charian, Cleopatra’s hand maiden, and Grant
as an arrogant Octavius. Land and sea power was well represented by
the virile performances of Brian Dowd as Lepidus, and Darren Page
There is artistic integrity in set designer Harry Feiner’s entwined,
transparent columns and decorated arch suitable for climbing, and
the moody lighting by Steven Rosen. It remains for director Monte
to give Shakespeare’s episodic (42 scenes) and histrionic play its
dramatic integrity. She does.
Whatever you call this particular spin that Monte has put on the
languid chronicle, it seems to be on its own intractable, but also
interminable, axis. Given the unavoidable brilliance of the text and
some commendable, if not memorable acting, this is an "Antony
and Cleopatra" that connects us fleetingly with the great and
tragic characters of an age-old story.
— Simon Saltzman
F.M. Kirby Theater, 36 Madison Avenue, Madison, 973-408-5600. $26
to $38. Performances through September 30.
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