“Antony and Cleopatra,” now playing at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, is one of Shakespeare’s most confounding plays. Directors have a hard time deciding what it is. Battles, politics, lust, suicides, a little comedy, and a lot of short scenes alternating between Egypt and Rome.
Many of those short scenes deal with military logistics and aren’t very dramatic. Director Bill Rauch has tried, not always successfully, to liven things up with lowbrow humor and improbable portrayals of Antony and Cleopatra, giving them the out-of-control behavior of randy teenagers. He huffs and stomps around; she pouts and screams. Then they throw themselves at each other. Is this any way for mature empire builders to act?
As played by Derrick Lee Weeden and Miriam Laube, the lovers have lost their bearings after years of fiery passion and jealousy. Antony, a great general and part of the triumvirate ruling the Roman Empire since the death of Julius Caesar, dangerously neglects his duties as he dallies with Cleopatra.
She herself is a shrewd ruler who managed to have a son by Caesar as her insurance policy. But now Caesar’s young nephew Octavius, the most ambitious member of the triumvirate, wants to crown himself emperor, at all costs. The insurance policy isn’t enough to protect the lovers who have recklessly doomed themselves and many around them.
We are told much of this sorry tale by Enobarbus, Antony’s closest aide and keen observer, astutely played by Jeffrey King. Many of the best lines in the play issue from his mouth. Iras and Charmian, Cleopatra’s intelligent maids, are appealingly played by Brooke Parks and Cristiana Clark.
The set by Richard Hay features a pyramid-like open triangle flanked by Roman columns. Signs light up to tell us where each scene takes place. We need all the help we can get.
The Egyptian costumes are sumptuous. The Roman soldiers mostly wear uniforms inspired by modern combat fatigues. This seems to be a trend at the festival. I guess Elizabethan camo is in style for now.
Meanwhile, I’m just hoping some director, somewhere, will somehow unlock the secret to creating a compelling, satisfying “Antony and Cleopatra.”