Shakespeare’s "Antony and Cleopatra" is a tragedy, a big one.
Lovers as powerful, antagonistic and used to getting their own way as these two are just bound for a sticky end and this play rather revels in the impending doom of these icons of history.
This particular adaptation of what is a strangely, rarely seen play is something of a hybrid. It’s fairly true to the RSC’s tried and tested version, but is positively littered with ironically and almost sadistically timed songs, soul, pop, rock and even a little jazz, all performed with the kind of full-on verve that one would find in the ‘rockest' of operas. It takes a lot of nerve to fashion such a ‘homage’ to such a famous story told by such an untouchable writer, but Gloria Gifford is nothing if she is not ambitious.
What this kind of ‘alternative’ Shakespearian production must live and die by in the end is its cast. Particularly with regard to the roles of Antony, Cleopatra and Octavius Caesar.
So it is with delight that I can tell you that the actors that play these parts do so with a skill and gusto and more than a little sauciness well worthy of the stature of the roles.
This production soars from the first, never afraid to raise a few eyebrows and push the boundaries of theatre. The costumes are impeccable and the set divine. We are treated to so many musical interludes, all adeptly translating the mood of the moment, that they are too numerous to list. Suffice it to say that songs that may have seemed an unlikely partner to ancient Mesopotamia and Rome are oddly not so and they all somehow elevate the romance, deepen the struggle, and they cannily give context to the classically themed maneuvering, mischief and melee.
Let's be absolutely clear here. This is not your grandma’s Shakespeare. What Ms Gifford brings to her interpretation of this iconic play is a refusal to be intimidated by the material, a joyous, unapologetic rendering of Cleopatra, one of Shakespeare’s most vividly and authentically drawn female characters and a very clever and relentless use of song to remind us that a couple of thousand years ago people were just as messed up, just as prone to ego worship and paranoia and just as enslaved to love as we are now. In short, nothing ever really changes, and that is the beauty of Shakespeare, rock songs or not.
If you like your ‘bard’ with a little twist and a lot of rhythm then this version of "Antony and Cleopatra" may be right up your alley!
Running from December 2 to December 30: Dark on December 24.
Fridays and Saturdays at 8 PM and Sundays at 7:30 PM.
Gray Studios, 5250 Vineland Ave., North Hollywood, 91601
Cast (in alphabetical order)
George Benedict, Raven Bowens, Billy Budinich, Victor Carter, Marlin Chan, Leana Chavez, Haile D’Alan, Yvette DeVito, Sonia Diaz, Chad Doreck, Joshua Farmer, Joe Filippone, Irini Gerakas, Keturah Hamilton, Chris Jones, Naté Jones, Abigail Kochunas, Joey Marie, Christian Maltez, Sam Mansour, Kelly Musslewhite, Tracey Nelson, Benito Paje, Kasia Pilewicz, Lauren Plaxco, Antonio Roccucci, Cynthia San Luis, Danny Siegel, Tejah Signori, Samiyah Swann, Justin Truesdale, Nancy Vivar, Keith Walker, Lucy Walsh and Jade Warner.
Stage managers: Justin Truesdale, Keith Walker. Set design: Gloria Gifford. Costume design: Gloria Gifford, Kasia Pilewicz. Hair/Make-up: Kasia Pilewicz. Lighting technician: Chris Rivera.