Antony and Cleopatra. For anyone around in the 1960s, those two names can’t help but conjure up memories of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, whose scandalous real-life love story mirrored that of the legendary historical couple they were playing on screen.

 The tale of Mark Antony and his Egyptian paramour goes back much further than Liz and Dick, however, having inspired writers from 1st/2nd Century Greek historian Plutarch to Elizabethan England’s William Shakespeare to French composer Jules Massenet to Hollywood’s Joe Mankiewicz.

For anyone who can’t get enough of these two romantic legends, Pasadena’s A Noise Within now stages a visually spectacular revival of The Bard’s Antony And Cleopatra. If only I could get excited about other aspects of the production.

Credit a crackerjack team of L.A.’s best designers for giving this Antony And Cleopatra its stunning look and sound.

 It’s quite a set that scenic designer Tom Buderwitz has created for Shakespeare’s lovers’ tale to enfold upon, combining Roman pillars and tiles with contemporary scaffolding and platforms, and an honest-to-goodness pool of water close enough for front-row center audience members to jump into.

Angela Balough Calin’s costumes are some of her most imaginative ever, from Cleopatra and her handmaidens’ gowns in their vivid saturated hues to rich red-and-gold military garb to the requisite togas, with 21st Century black calf-length leggings adding a modern touch to these ancient Roman creations.

Ken Booth’s equally stunning lighting design bathes all of the above quite dramatically indeed, as Laura Karpman’s pulsating original music provides an equally dramatic underscoring.

 Then there’s fight choreographer Ken Merckx’s breathtaking swordplay, yet another visually striking aspect of this Geoff Elliott/Julia Rodriguez-Elliott-directed production, which has cast members descending by rope from sky-high rafters and executing athletic aerialist moves more times than I could possibly have counted.

Renee Thompson Cash’s props and Monica Lisa Sabedra’s wig, hair, and makeup design deserve applause as well.

Nevertheless, all the spectacle in the world could not overcome my lack of involvement in this Shakespearean tragedy, one of his last and longest.

Some of the blame for this rests on my own shoulders, for unlike Shakespeare aficionados, this reviewer’s ears have always had particular difficulty in following the Bard’s 16th Century iambic pentameter. Add to that my unfamiliarity with his Antony And Cleopatra and I found myself tuning out more often than I likely would have with a Shakespearean work I’m more familiar with.

Beyond this, however, I found it hard to drum up interest in lovers offering so little to care about, particularly compared to those in Shakespeare’s more popular plays. Unlike Hamlet and Ophelia, Romeo and Juliet, or any of the Bard’s romantic comedy duos, Antony And Cleopatra prove a rather off-putting pair.

 I liked Susan Angelo’s vampy, growly Cleopatra. (I could almost imagine her launching into Cher’s “Believe” with her handmaidens providing harmonic backup.) Geoff Elliott’s Antony is another matter.

At his best, and that’s quite terrific indeed, Elliott has delivered some of A Noise Within’s most memorable performances. His Scenie-winning turns in Man Of La Mancha, A Touch Of The Poet, and The Chairs (or his hilarious supporting gem in last fall’s Twelfth Night) showcase Elliott’s talent at bringing highly theatrical characters to life. I had a much harder time buying him in a role best served by a more traditional romantic lead, take for instance a young Timothy Dalton, who played Mark Antony back when he was a mere 35. Overly histrionic, Elliott’s middle-aged Antony often seems more interested in the sound of his oh-so-resonant pipes than in his onstage paramour.

Ultimately, we end up without lovers or a love story to get excited about or involved with.

Among supporting players, Max Rosenak’s boyish yet commanding Octavius Caesar and Christian Rummel’s dynamic Scarus come across best, with Dane Biren’s and Amin El Gamal’s roles as ill-fated messenger and sympathetic eunuch as cameo standouts.

 Nick Broderick, Sara Ceballos, Nick Crandall, Robertson Dean, Rafael Goldstein, Diana Gonzalez-Morett, Angela Gulner, Jill Hill, William Dennis Hunt, Christopher Karbo, Merckx, Gregory North, Philip Rodriguez, Thaddeus Shafer, Kristina Teves, Kabin Thomas, Nathan Turner, and Steve Weingartner complete the generally first-rate cast, whose younger male members deserve special kudos for meeting the highly athletic demands of their roles.

Meghan Gray is stage manager, Kellsy MacKilligan costume shop manager, Andrew Ellis technical director, Patrick Taylor and JaNelle Weatherford master electricians, and Claire Marie Mannle assistant stage manager.

With a shorter running time, Antony And Cleopatra’s visual spectacle at A Noise Within might have proven enough for me to recommend this production. At nearly three hours, ennui trumped spectacle, for this reviewer at least.

A Noise Within, 3352 East Foothill Blvd, Pasadena.

–Steven Stanley
March 3, 2012
Photos: Craig Schwartz

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