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vancouverplays review

 

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—Andrew Wheeler and Jennifer Lines in ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA at Bard on the Beach Shakespeare 2010. Photo: David Cooper

ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA
by William Shakespeare
Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival
Vanier Park
June 16-24
$18.75-$38
604-739-0559 or www.bardonthebeach.org

Scott Bellis is a veteran of many Bard seasons and one of the company’s very best actors. As a director, though, he’s a relative novice. Once again, credit Chris Gaze with the courage, far-sightedness and good judgment to take one of his actors and throw him into the deep end of the pool. The strategy has paid off with Dean Paul Gibson, Meg Roe and David Mackay; and Bellis, too, makes Gaze look … well, not like a genius in this case, but like a damn good talent scout.  However, there may be some kind of sado-masochistic thing going on between Gaze and Bellis because Antony and Cleopatra is a maddeningly difficult play to make work.

Much like its mainstage partner, Much Ado—only more so—A&C is a two-trick pony.  Apart from the title characters and some brilliant poetic descriptions of Cleopatra by Antony’s friend Enobarbus (delivered with flair by Simon Bradbury), there’s a lot of confusing talk about the political situation, confusing battles (why does Cleopatra’s navy turn tail a second time in the face of Caesar’s fleet??), confusing doubling in this production (the play has many more characters than Bard has cast), and confusing and repetitious changes of emotional direction on the part of our two heroic lovers. 

But Bellis is blessed with two of the company’s most reliable stars in Jennifer Lines and Andrew Wheeler.  Lines is her usual radiant self, and her ramrod-straight posture serves here as the visual sign of the Egyptian Queen’s regal pride.  Cleopatra is in a politically impossible situation, and Lines makes as much sense as she can of the complications inherent in the Queen’s necessarily pragmatic shifts of allegiance combined with her emotionally volatile attraction-repulsion with Antony.  Still, there are moments when it seems impossible to understand just what is driving her.  Wheeler’s Antony shows great strength in his passion for her and in his self-loathing when that passion interferes with his military leadership.  You can easily see how a man like him might be driven to madness by a woman like her—and finally decide that it’s worth it.

Martin Sims’ Agrippa and John Murphy’s Decretas stand out amid all the soldierly strutting, and Patti Allan has some spookily effective moments as the Egyptian soothsayer. 

Bellis makes an excellent decision to stylize the battles, with two lines of combatants crossing pennants in slow motion rather than running around swinging swords.  But other production elements are not so successful.  Über-costumer Mara Gottler dresses Cleopatra, probably Shakespeare’s most glamorous character, in basically a single frock, and even when accessorized it doesn’t reflect Enobarbus’ description of her visual glories.  And Noah Drew’s electronic sound design sounds too much like the ambient noise from Vanier Park.

Better to listen to those two passionate middle-aged colossi who bestride the stage, willing to give their all for love.

Jerry Wasserman