by Joey GuerraDaily Cougar Staff
"Age cannot wither her," says one of the characters in the Alley Theatre's production of Antony and Cleopatra, referring to the powerful female ruler. This thought applies as well to actress Vanessa Redgrave, who infuses her character with an impressive amount of energy. Her Cleopatra is vain and sarcastic but filled with wonderment regarding the people and places surrounding her.
Redgrave's interpretation is not that of a sultry siren in the tradition of Elizabeth Taylor's movie queen, but more of a fascinating womanchild.
Antony and Cleopatra, a "love" story of sorts, is set after the death of Julius Caesar. Besides detailing the struggle for Caesar's riches, the play chronicles the downfall of Marc Antony (David Harewood) through his tempestuous relationship with Cleopatra. She bewitches him not with her beauty but with her persona. Redgrave uses her exquisite talents to illustrate the lure of Cleopatra, and she shimmers in Act 1.
Redgrave directed the play, and she shows an eye for detail, using light and shadows to indicate different rooms, changes of scenery and weather. The battle scenes within the play are also elegantly executed, and Redgrave's energy is clearly seen when she dukes it out with Antony herself. A much more impressive job is done directing this play than was done with brother Corin's failed effort, Julius Caesar.
Despite Redgrave's deserving praise, the play has definite flaws. Some of the acting is not quite up to par. As Maecenas, Alley regular John Feltch should think hard about ever doing Shakespeare again. His delivery and presence are both weak. As Antony, Harewood lacks the raw energy and passion he displayed in Julius Caesar.
The other performances are decidedly closer to the mark. Rutherford Cravens, Alex Allen Morris, Jeffrey Bean and James Black are well-cast as key players in the ultimate tragedy. Monica Koskey is also fine as Iras, one of Cleopatra's ladies-in-waiting.
A definite delight is Shelley Williams as Charmian, another of Cleopatra's ladies. Williams is every bit Redgrave's equal, peppering her performance with sarcasm, humor and genuine despair at the tragic end.
The night, though, belongs to Redgrave, who makes the production well worth everyone's time. While her momentum seems to wane a bit in the second act, it is nonetheless a pleasure seeing such an esteemed actress on the Alley stage. She interjects each piece of Cleopatra -- her laugh, her shriek, her walk -- with class and elegance.
If there is a drawback, it is that Shakespeare's text has not aged very well. Some of the dialogue seems stilted, and perhaps tightening it up with a few proof readings may be a good idea.
Redgrave has created something much more entertaining than her brother's production, Julius Caesar. If comparison seems unnecessary, both plays are in repertory at the Alley, which involves the Redgraves' Moving Theatre Company. They both draw from the same barrel, which makes the disparity in quality surprising.
Problems and all, Antony and Cleopatra is a definite highlight of the Alley season. One will long remember the production's stunning final scenes and the throaty, caustic laugh of Redgrave's haunting Cleopatra.