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Antony & Cleoptra

We were expecting so much. My family loves Shakespeare & Co., the Berkshires-based institution. The Company’s founder and spirit, Tina Packer, stars in this production — taking a leading role for the first time in many years. And the play has gotten raves, including in the Boston Globe.

But I thought the performance lacked many of the Company’s signature delights. Although the language was as clear as ever, and many of the performances were strong, the director Michael Hammond staged it inertly. It was as close to watching actors stand and declaim as I’ve ever seen the Company come. Some of this he clearly did on purpose, as when the factional leaders meet and form an alliance. But the rest of the play also was staged as a rectangle within which people talk. Usually, Shakespeare & Co. fills the place with movement that enlivens and enlightens. To this performance’s detriment, two nights earlier we’d seen the Company’s version of Midsummer Night’s Dream for the second time, which is staged beautifully and hilariously. But A & C didn’t just pale by comparison. It was, put most positively, staid. And that’s really being too generous. For example, Hammond chose to insert battle scenes that were slow motion, stylized ballets that conveyed nothing; they might just as well replaced them with a placard that read: “Insert battle here.”

And, although I hate to say it because she has been such a force for making Shakespeare matter despite the barriers of time and language, I thought Tina Packer was not very good in the part. I never believed her. Her final scene — granted, by that time I was already resenting being held in the theater — struck me as a parody of a stagy Shakespeare reading…Cleopatra as performed by Mrs. Rittenhouse. Where she should have shown us Cleopatra’s allure, she was coquettish. Where she should have broken our hearts, she resorted to tricks — the brave smile, the looking away. She was at her best, I thought, in her scenes with her maidens; the Company usually excels at women’s roles.

I liked some of the other performances. Nigel Gore, so good as Bottom, was believable as Antony. I was especially surprised by Craig Baldwin, one of the lovers in Midsummer’s Night Dream, who brought nuance and sympathy to Octavius Caesar’s cold determination. Walton Wilson as Enobarbus, well-delivered the beautiful explanation of Cleopatra. He evoked her better than Packer did.

I’ve never seen this play before. I’m glad to have seen it, but, alas, not because of the strength of this performance of it. I hate to say it. Go instead to see A Midsummer’s Night Dream. Twice. [Tags: shakespeare reviews tina_packer antony_and_cleopatra berkshires ]


For an alternative view of the same performance, see Meredith Sue Willis‘ blog, where she’ll soon be posting about it. She’s my sister-in-law and a novelist whose opinion is far better founded than mine.

3 Responses to “Antony & Cleoptra”

  1. I’d be interested in hearing your comments on Kenneth Branagh’s As You Like It – currently showing on HBO. I haven’t had a chance to see it yet… though it is waiting patiently on my Tivo.

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