“Antony and Cleopatra” – Southwest Shakespeare Company

This review aired on KBAQ April 21, 2011


Southwest Shakespeare Company, Mesa Arts Center
Mesa, AZ

“Antony and Cleopatra,” one of the Bard’s most problematic plays, is difficult to produce as it flashes between the sensuousness of Egypt where Antony leads but is sidetracked by his love for Cleopatra, and Rome where Antony remembers his duty but leads a life of show. He marries but then abandons Octavia as his support for Caesar, his leader, wavers. The play follows history but is long, cumbersome, and gets off track as Antony succumbs to Cleopatra’s sexuality.

For Southwest Shakespeare Company to tackle such a work is brave but to deliver it in the mediocre production at the Mesa Arts Center destroys the play. Edited profusely by director Jared Sakren whose staging makes what’s left of the play bland and uninteresting, it finally reaches its dramatic conclusion with Antony’s suicide. When this admittedly melodramatic move elicits audience laughter, including this critic, you realize how right your negative reaction is to this production. When intermission comments include, “Hope the second half is faster and better than the first” or “Is there more?” you know the audience in the small Nesbitt/Elliott Playhouse Theater doesn’t appreciate the weak staging.

But it isn’t just the suicide that’s laughable. It’s the entire production with only David Dooley, who plays Caesar with cunning insight, an exception to the mediocrity. The production’s two professional performers, television’s Matthew Ashford who kills his Antony from his first tentative moment on stage, and Los Angeles television actress Lana Buss who butchers and lacks any sexiness as Cleopatra, you know the production is doomed. Like the entire staging around them, these television non-actors think it’s dramatic to perpetually shout their dialogue as they assault the audience with unprofessional overkill and no character shading. Except for Dooley, no actors make the tricky Shakespeare language comprehensible as they fall into a sing-songy momentum that bores without letting us know or understand these complex historical characters.

Tacky costuming distracts while a unit set proves awkward to move and it never gives any impression of what Rome should look like nor does it convey Egyptian luster. Swaying and unsteady pillars are turned to help change locations but these flimsy and distracting scenic devices would be best left in the wings. The inexperienced actors are often burdened with too many props that divert as the actors fumble uncomfortably with them. Only Dooley’s Caesar exposes his character with nuances and subtle touches of insight.

Shakespeare is challenging, but this “Antony and Cleopatra” makes the Bard’s script deadly dull. “Antony and Cleopatra” continues through April 30. For tickets, call the Mesa Arts Center box office at 480-644-6500 or order tickets online at www.mesaartscenter.com.

Grade: F


One Response to ““Antony and Cleopatra” – Southwest Shakespeare Company”

  1. Alberto said:

    May 01, 11 at 09:19

    You hit the nail right on the head. Especially the part about Cesear. We felt awful for him and to have his performance overshadowed by the productions and two leads shortcomings. Worst performance I have seen out of this company.