It was hard to tell just who was best served by Frank Cwiklik's vivid re-imagination of Shakespeare's Antonyand Cleopatra as a gangland-style, Las Vegas tab show. Certainly the purists would blanch at the liberties taken, the cuts made, and the seemingly utter disregard for the words. Certainly, the earsplitting music, the heat, and the endlessly chain-smoking performers made the cozy confines of the Red Room uncomfortably intimate. And certainly, the performers cannot be unscarred physically or emotionally from the violence of the staging.
And yet, those cavils notwithstanding, Cwiklik's vision swept all aside in the radical boldness of its execution. What could be interpreted as gratuitous, even self-indulgent, on Cwiklik's part actually emerged as an intelligent, clear interpretation of a venerable classic in which the work emerged fresh, vital, and startlingly prescient. As well as audaciously entertaining.
Gorgeous visually, the production (Cwiklik also served as designer for the show) made magic out of almost nothing -- a red curtain, black walls and a few pieces of furniture; black-and-white costumes (with touches of electric blue and gold glitz); and flashy, lurid lighting effects created the tawdry world of a Sin City casino better than all of the tracer lights, techtronic set wagons, and gaudy backdrops in the world could have done. The final scene, with a victorious Caesar left alone, smoke curling menacingly over his head in the soft blue light, was a masterstroke that capped an evening of similarly stunning visual masterstrokes. All were underlined with sensational, ever-present sound effects and music; sharp choreography; fabulously simple cinematic staging effects; and always, always the ideas supporting the ideas, if not the actual words, of the text.
If those words did not come trippingly off the tongues of some of the performers, and if at times the aforementioned music was so loud as to drown some of the dialogue, it really didn't matter. The intentions of author, director, and performer were always moving the complicated plot along with startling clarity, with the best work coming from Tom Mazur as an Antony who knew exactly what he was doing, why he shouldn't be doing it, and doing it anyway; Anna Curtis as a deliciously vulgar yet imperially sensual Cleopatra (Queen of the Striptease); and Bob Brader as a slimy, Napoleonic Caesar. Also outstanding was Michele Schlossberg, who played Enobarbus as an Execubitch with amusing, chilling authority.
Sexy, violent, at times overwhelming and certainly not an authentic Shakespearean experience, it might not be so hard to tell who was best served after all. Any production that grabs and demands attention like this and then delivers the goods serves everyone involved. Maybe not in the ways originally intended, but this Antony and Cleopatra, circa 2002, if not reverentially authentic, was every bit as relevant, shocking, and entertaining as the late-16th-century original must have been. As one of Las Vegas's star restaurateurs might say: "BAM!"
(Also featuring Jonathan M. Castro, Matthew Gray, Maria Hurdle, Carrie Johnson, Bob Laine, Nicole Marsh, Gerald Marsini, Emily Mostyn-Brown, Alisha Silver, Ken Simon, Ken Stanek, and Adam Swiderski. Sound Design by Youthquake!)
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Copyright 2002 Doug DeVita