For those who haven't had the experience, Colorado Springs has an annual Shakespeare Festival. TheatreWorks hosts a Shakespeare show at Rock Ledge Ranch each summer to open its season, and this year it's Antony and Cleopatra, Shakespeare's tragedy set in Rome and Egypt.
Shakespeare's lead characters are well known for their voracious sexual appetites, their political betrayals and their tragic downfalls. Mark Antony (played by James Keegan) was a Roman general and supporter of Julius Caesar until Caesar's death. Cleopatra (Tracy Hostmyer) was a female Egyptian Pharaoh, legendary for her beauty and her ruthless palace politics.
The complicated plot follows them as they use each other to satisfy their orgasmic and political power lusts.
The TheatreWorks set is stark; the floor of the stage is a black-and-white reproduction of the map of the Mediterranean, suggesting the power centers of Rome, Athens and Alexandria. Other than a few set pieces (chairs, a table, and a large dark representation of Cleopatra's monument) that move on and off the stage as needed, the stage is bare.
Rather than an elaborate set, Director Murray Ross sets the time and place with Harvey Santos' brightly colored costumes. The Romans are in contemporary uniforms, including desert camouflage, making them immediately recognizable as soldiers.
Ross puts the Egyptians in period costumes, emphasizing the femininity of Cleopatra and her servants Charmian (Regina Steffen) and Iras (Carmen Shedd). Both Steffen and Shedd make the most of their supporting roles, mixing some sassiness with servitude and injecting some royal mischief into Cleopatra's chambers. While it may seem difficult to share a stage with Cleopatra, Steffen and Shedd are always getting more than their share of the audience's attention.
Tom Paradise (Enobarbus, Antony's friend), is spot on as a loyal supporter, and equally as impressive in his remorse after he betrays Antony. Paradise's suicide is one of the most convincing acts of honor in the show.
I'm no Shakespearean scholar, but I know that he saddled his main characters with a frustrating paradox. They are to be both lovers and mortal enemies, though not simultaneously. This conflict of changing emotions is a very delicate balance for the actors.
Keegan's Mark Antony is strong and hunky. He's briefly shirtless in the first act, a detail I'm sure was noticed by every woman in the theater. The volatile love/hate relationship is challenging; Keegan is more convincing in his anger than in his carnal passion. His passion for revenge boils over, but his passion for Cleopatra is more of a slow burn.
Hostmyer's Cleopatra is an attractive character who knows how to get what she wants. She can scheme, she can seduce, she can betray — and she can change her mind in a flash. Even so, Hostmyer comes off as more a manipulative puppeteer than a sexy seductress.
This is a first-rate production, and Keegan and Hostmyer are gifted actors. Both have extensive experience with Shakespeare.
Still, I left the theater wishing for more chemistry between Antony and Cleopatra. The anger was real, the mutual manipulation was real and the remorse was real.
The passion, however, seemed more smoke than fire.