Travel to ancient Egypt with Antony and Cleopatra 

Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park's Antony and Cleopatra
  • Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park's Antony and Cleopatra

Antony and Cleopatra 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday Water Stage Myriad Botanical Gardens 301 W. Reno Ave. 235-3700 $10-$15

You know how the story ends before you take your seat at the Water Stage, but that doesn’t lessen the experience of Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park’s engaging production of Antony and Cleopatra. Elucidating staging and strong acting keep your attention right up until the asps make their appearance.

Directed by Judith Midyett Pender, the production begins on an odd note. According to the program, the action takes place between 41 and 30 B.C., but the opening music sounds 19th-century, while the Romans’ costumes look 18th-century and the Egyptians wear antique exotica (designed by the reliable Robert Pittenridge). Oh well. On with the battling, conniving and intrigue.

Shakespeare’s script comprises 42 scenes, which Pender has edited to about half that. Still, the play runs almost three hours, but we have all seen 90-minute shows that seemed longer. Pender’s clear direction helps the actors and the audience and keeps the action moving in scenes that jump around between Italy, Egypt and Greece.

In the Roman and Egyptian title roles are Richard J. Nelson and Kathryn McGill, two of our longtime favorite actors who have matured to the point of being just right to play Antony and Cleopatra. In some scenes, they coo and pet like teenagers, and at other times, they attack each other full bore. Nelson’s Antony succumbs convincingly and fatefully to Cleopatra’s charms. McGill’s Cleopatra clings desperately and fatally to her lover, who rules one-third of the known world.

They are joined by a cast that features consistently strong acting, beginning with the triumvirate of Mark Antony, Octavius Caesar and Lepidus. Michael Spegar does a fine job as the young Octavius Caesar (later known as Augustus of New Testament fame). With youthful arrogance, Spegar’s Caesar abhors Antony’s reveling and lack of military discipline. Pender’s staging of the play sympathizes with Cleopatra in that Caesar’s condescending behavior toward her after Antony has died hastens the Egyptian queen’s death.

Thomas Pender plays Lepidus, the triumvir who rules the remaining third of the known world. He makes as convincing a drunk as you’ll see on about any stage.

Pender has assembled an accomplished cast of experienced and young actors. Wil Rogers is Enobarbus, Antony’s tormented follower. Alyssa Van Hooser and Christine Mirzayan give fine performances as Cleopatra’s attendants who stick with her to the bitter end. Bryant Hayes is appealing as Caesar’s general, Agrippa.

OSP has done away with the two-story set of previous seasons. This doesn’t help the theater’s acoustics, but it gives scenic designers considerably more flexibility. Rick Reeves’ set has two columns upstage. Other than that, settings are created by the use of props (by Ben Hall). The spare staging allows Pender to move the action apace.

Shakespeare’s plays usually draw good crowds in Oklahoma City. Antony and Cleopatra is a complicated script to stage, which might explain why it’s rarely done here. This isn’t exactly a once-in-a-lifetime chance to view this play, but it’s nice for city theatergoers to see Nelson and McGill in OSP’s nifty production.

Print headline: Ancient delight

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