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A&E review: Anthony and Cleopatra

Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park is celebrating 30 years of summer picnics with the Bard. The second show of this anniversary season is “Antony & Cleopatra” playing through July 18 at the Myriad Botanical Gardens Water Stage.

“Antony & Cleopatra” is skillfully directed by Judith Midyett Pender utilizing a well-appointed crew and cast. Don’t miss the Dramaturg’s Notes—Kae Koger is an excellent dramaturg, and her notes (usually unnoticed) are helpful to the audience. Ben Hall is the Production Manager/Technical Director and Robert Pittenridge returns as OSP’s Costume Designer. The show is beautifully staged and the costumes are magnificent although a little confusing. Shakespeare is for any era and costumes need not be specific to one period, but the apparel might seem to represent either first century BCE or the Napoleonic period according to location. The discrepancy could break the continuity, although some research reveals that all the costumes are indeed from the era in which the wonders of Egypt were re-discovered by Napoleonic troops.

Overall the cast is excellent. Starring Richard J. Nelson as Mark Antony, Triumvir of Rome and Kathryn McGill as Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt the cast is definitely headed by a remarkable pair. Nelson particularly shines in expressing a range of emotion in the second act when Mark Antony realizes the extent of the betrayals that have occurred. Nelson shows us the pride of Antony as well as the raw ambition, but he also shows us the inner motives of a bright and frustrated leader losing his way. McGill is a striking Cleopatra, playing her as intelligent and manipulative, she has captured the essence of the Cleopatra known for her sexuality. While Cleopatra definitely used sex as a bargaining chip, McGill’s performance shows us the whole of her magnetism. It takes more than a pretty face to accomplish what history has painted and McGill gives us all of Cleopatra’s charm, beauty and canny plotting with superb sensitivity.

Equally notable is the performance of Wil Rogers as Enobarbus, Antony’s follower. Commanding the stage with aplomb and aptitude, Rogers demonstrates an extensive range in his performance. Octavius Caesar, Triumvir of Rome alongside Antony is Michael Spegar. He is a younger man, and of course, a younger actor, but Spegar certainly shows us the devious nature that the role demands. The third in the Triumvirate is Lepidus, played by Thomas Pender with technical strength. Charmian, Cleopatra’s lady, played by Alyssa Van Hooser, is a lovely and devoted woman who also provides a nice contrast to her mistress. Iras, Cleopatra’s attendant is Christine Mirzayan, and her give and take with Charmian is excellent. Another delightful performance is provided by Gretchen Hahn as Octavia, sister of Octavius Caesar. A gripping and stalwart performance comes from Bryant Hayes as Agrippa. No less powerful are the performances of the entire cast. Although not mentioned individually here, their strong work as individuals and as an ensemble are appreciated by the audience.

The show runs longer than the two hours most of us expect, so a pillow for the plastic stadium seats is a good idea. “Antony & Cleopatra” plays through July 18 with an 8:00 pm show time. Contact the box office at 405-235-3700 to make reservations. Thirty years of talent, in the face of trials and transitions, have given Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park something to celebrate with Oklahoma City audiences!

Elizabeth Hurd

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