When Cleopatra (Ali Viterbi ’14) learns of Antony’s (Iason Togias ’16) marriage to Octavia (Marianna Gailus ’17), she transforms from a seemingly innocuous queen to an unforgiving gladiator. Her disbelief is clearly at display as she threatens to kill Ledipdus (William Viederman ’17), the poor man who delivered the message. As she beats Lepidus, Cleopatra insists that what she heard cannot not be the truth. Eventually, the disbelief turns into a grave realization as Cleopatra tries to reassure her maids and most importantly, herself, that Antony is bound to return back home. Unfortunately for her, their relationship fails to blossom further.
“Antony and Cleopatra,” a tragedy written by William Shakespeare and performed at the Morse-Stiles Crescent Theater, begins with a fruitful relationship between Cleopatra and Antony in Egypt. Yet this relationship is short-lived, as Antony receives news of his wife’s death and political upheavals. Returning to Rome, Antony marries Octavia to unite two competing families and bring peace back to Rome. As the play progresses further, the relationship between the three characters – Cleopatra, Antony and Octavia – escalates into thrilling heights. The dichotomy of the love affairs and deathly wars pushes the narrative and the excellent chemistry between the characters.
Cleopatra, played by Viterbi, is deemed as one of Shakespeare’s most sophisticated female characters. Viterbi certainly lives up to this standard in her interpretation of Cleopatra’s polar and often very complex moods. Viterbi’s facial expressions — a playful lady or a vicious queen — are easily the highlights of her performance. Her chemistry with other characters, especially Antony and Ledpidus, are undeniably realistic (when I watched her opening romantic scene with Antony I turned away, much as I do in any movie.) Viterbi’s mere presence on the stage brought forth a sense of excitement and anticipation for what was to follow.
While Cleopatra shines in her expansive, definitive role, Enobarbus, played by Otis Blum ’15, suffers from a lack of exposure, especially in the first half of the play. When Blum first spoke, I was pleasantly surprised — his voice, full of authority and zeal, energized the theater. From then on, I wanted more of him, but my desire was never fully satisfied. Blum had very few lines and often was seen in the background — shining his knife or looking onward with wide eyes. Seeing him readjust the set after almost every scene was infuriating because I knew he wouldn’t play a major role in those scenes. I just wanted more of his monologues and less of him standing around and contributing nothing to the scenes. Ultimately, Blum’s talents were drastically underutilized.
Stage decorations were nonexistent apart from a solid rectangular ornament, which served as a podium, a battleground and conversely, even a bed. The ornament had seen so much use by the play’s end that I wondered if they got a new one after every showing. Lighting was the biggest distraction — there was simply too much of it. I don’t know if I just picked a woeful spot, but there was almost always a bright light opposite of me. Much worse, the lighting distracted from the events on the stage. The lights should only add to the experience, not take away as much as they have in this case.
The second half of the play dramatically advances the narrative’s pace. This, along with some unbelievable play-acting by Viterbi and Togias, made the show a success, even with the stage decorations and lighting issues. “Antony and Cleopatra” is ultimately a thrilling adventure, brimming with tragic moments, a fulfilling narrative and an entertaining, if somewhat underutilized, cast of characters.