By Jason Crawford Samios-Uy
Running Time: 2 hours and 40 minutes with one 15-minute intermission
Even though many are familiar with the plays or poetry of Shakespeare, it can be daunting when one is face to face with it. It can be even more daunting when someone decides to present said material in Original Pronunciation (OP), but the latest offering from The Baltimore Shakespeare Factory (BSF), Antony & Cleopatra, Directed by Thomas Delise, is a charming, easy-to-follow presentation that will be a delight for Shakespearean newbies and experts alike.
True to form, the staging for Antony & Cleopatra is sparse with the production depending on the performances to carry the show, however, it’s worth mentioning Costume Design by April Forrer is exquisite and adds great value to production as a whole. Forrer’s design is authentic and the actors seem comfortable in the wardrobe making for quite pleasing aesthetics to go along with the superb performances.
To help those who may not be as versed in the work of the Great Bard, a BSF company member takes the time to explain a few things to the audience before the show starts and this is a good call on the part of BSF. The explanation and examples of Modern English, which is actually what Shakespeare spoke and wrote, in contrast to Old and Middle English gives the audience an idea of what they’re about to experience and a base from which to work and it eases the anxiety a little, letting the audience relax and enjoy the production.
As for the performance aspect, it’s easy to see this production team and actors have put time, blood, sweat, and tears into this production and it certainly pays off. Kudos to Director Thomas Delise for keeping this piece moving with a balanced pace making the near 3-hour run time seem much less. Delise has a good understanding of the material and has guided his actors so well they tell this story effortlessly.
During a short Q&A after the performance I attended, the actors explained how they paraphrased and came up with their own translations of the material, helping them understand the text and, in turn, being able to express the words to the audience with their inflections and movement. I can’t emphasize enough how easy it is to follow this story, even if you aren’t familiar with it. Though some performers were a little stronger than others, the entire ensemble is spot on with their performances and easily accomplish the Original Pronunciation.
Tom Piccin, a fairly new Shakespearean actor, does well taking on four roles (Mardian, Scarus, Thidias, and Seleucus) but shines as Mardian, Cleopatra’s eunuch who entertains and has a bagful of jokes for any occasion. He works well with and has a good chemistry with Bethany Mayo and Isa Guitan who take on the roles of Charmina and Iras, respectively, with Mayo being a definite highlight of this production and gives a natural, effortless performance as one of Cleopatra’s attendants.
Taking on the titular role of Mark Antony, Chris Cotterman is confident and comfortable but next to his counterpart, Valerie Dowdle (who I will most definitely discuss in a moment), his performance falls slightly flat. This isn’t to say he doesn’t do an admirable job, because he does, but Cotterman seems a little stiff and scripted, at times. Regardless, he still does a bang up job and has a fantastic comprehension of the piece making for a commendable performance. Cotterman does, however, very well in tandem with Troy Jennings who takes on the role of Octavius Caesar and he embodies this character wholly. Jennings is comfortable in this role. but makes a curious and somewhat annoying vocalization choice with Caesar (and this is a little nitpicking, but it stood out for me) repeatedly speaking in a voice obviously higher than his own and it just didn’t fit well for the character. Otherwise, he has a great grasp of the character and the story and gives a strong, confident performance. Both Cotterman and Jennings are to be commended for their performances.
Working along side of this able and worthy cast, Valerie Dowdle is the standout in this production Antony & Cleopatra, taking on the role of the complex, manipulative, and sexy Queen Cleopatra. Dowdle has this role down pat and makes it her own with no holds barred. She has a flawless authenticity and such a strong, assured stage presence, it’s hard not to watch her when she steps onto the stage. Even with the challenge of Original Pronunciation, she seems to be Cleopatra incarnate and glides across the stage understanding every word which gives the audience a better understanding of this character. Her intonation and movement are on point and she is an absolute joy to watch.
Final thought… Antony & Cleopatra at The Baltimore Shakespeare Factory takes us back to days of olde when Modern English was just starting to form and William Shakespeare was a rockstar of the theatre. This Original Pronunciation production is well put-together with painstaking detail and talented Shakespearean actors from beginners to more advanced. It’s actually quite easy to follow, even if you are unfamiliar with the Great Bard’s work. It does help that the audience gets a tiny crash course in language before the show starts, which is a good call on BSF’s part! It’s an authentic showing and whether your a Shakespearean expert, beginner or somewhere in between, this is not a production you want to miss.
This is what I thought of The Baltimore Shakespeare’s production of Antony & Cleopatra… What did you think? Please feel free to leave a comment!
Antony & Cleopatra will play through April 23 at The Baltimore Shakespeare Factory at The Great Hall Theatre at St. Mary’s, 3900 Roland Avenue, Baltimore, MD. For tickets, purchase the online here.
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