Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Death on the Nile

March 24, 2012

Susan Angelo and Geoff Elliott Photo : Craig Schwartz/ANW 2012
Among all of Shakespeare’s plays, Antony and Cleopatra may have been the most screen worthy. Granted, he had no way of knowing that, but it is filled with the kinds of things that still spell green light for Hollywood studios – exotic locales in Alexandria and Rome, large scale fight sequences, recognizable characters, and a tragic love story. Yet it is the demands of all these things going on in the same relatively short time period while in a condensed space that may make the play a bit less popular to stage than Shakespeare’s others. There are big shifts in tone and a lot of (augmented) history for the audience to digest, and making it all hang together in an entertaining and believable way is no small feat. Pasadena’s A Noise Within kicked off their spring season with a new production of Antony and Cleopatra last month that has a lot to say for itself even if it doesn’t manage to pull all the loose ends together as well as it might.

Central to the play's success are the title roles, and Susan Angelo who plays Cleopatra gives a lusty and engaged performance of the Egyptian queen dealing with the various psychological proclivities of her Roman neighbors. Angelo expertly milks scenes for all they’re worth including her rage with servants who’ve unwittingly become the bearers of bad news about her lover along the way. Opposite Angelo is company co-founder and production co-director Geoff Elliott who gives a comparable, subdued performance as Mark Antony. Antony’s got a lot on his mind at virtually every moment of this story, and Elliott reasonably goes for something along the line of the crisis management approach to the character. Most importantly, the relationship between the two rulers comes off as sincere and intimate against a canvas of political intrigue. Of course, there is a more than capable huge cast besides these two leads including the always enjoyable Robertson Dean as Enobarbus and Max Rosenak as Octavius Caesar.

Yet Elliott, along with his wife and co-director Julia Rodriguez-Elliott, doesn’t quite manage to give the show all the gravitas it should convey. The humorous and romantic bits work well, but as the play turns into its final tragic acts things begin to unravel and the deaths of the main characters can ring hollow. In Thursday’s performance certain moments during Antony’s death scene were met with uncharacteristic laughter from the audience and the subsequent scenes seemed to drag on to the end. However, there was other good news in that the company continues to explore and make use of their grand new space. The fight scenes here were bigger and more detailed than any the company has yet done, with Romans rappelling from the fly space above the stage. The cast managed to keep the almost cavernous space of the new theater from overwhelming the proceedings filling the room and drawing the audience in to the events on stage. On balance the company manages to get enough right in the show that it makes for a worthwhile theater experience and certainly much more enjoyment than most Hollywood blockbusters can deliver. The show runs in Pasadena through May 13.


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