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Young actors, ancient love

Morgan Chard plays Cleopatra to Patrick Moltane's Marc Antony in the Shakespearean tragedy at the Hilberry Theatre. (NICOLE GRAM)


'Antony and Cleopatra'


www.hilberry.com
The most refreshing thing about the Hilberry Theatre production of Shakespeare's "Antony and Cleopatra" is that it stays so close to the text.

Except for the interpretive dance that separates various scenes, this is played straight: no updates, no surprises, and for the most part, no problems.

In this sequel to "Julius Caesar," Marc Antony (Patrick Moltane), the legendary Roman general, is living with Egyptian ruler Cleopatra (Morgan Chard) when he receives news of wife Fulvia's death. His joy soon ebbs when he realizes he must return home to restore order.

The play finds the great tactician in his final days wrestling with love of country and lust for Cleopatra. Back in Rome, he tangles with Octavius Caesar (Jeff Luttermoser), who insists that Antony marry Caesar's sister, Octavia (Tiffanie Kilgast). By the time Antony returns to Egypt, Caesar has marshaled forces against him.

Loving beyond reason is at the heart of the play, written at the height of the Bard's powers in 1607 but often considered the poor relation in a string of brilliant tragedies from the period: "Othello," "King Lear" and "Macbeth." The tragic flaw of "Antony and Cleopatra," both as a play and a character study, is the inability to find that balance between love and politics.

The leads fuel their roles with the proper emotion, if not intensity. The lovers are middle-aged and they feel it. Moltane masks his youth with a full beard, playing Antony as any 40-something who wants a vintage Porsche rather than a minivan.

Chard's Cleo shows her slyness and vanity when questioning a servant about Antony's new, younger wife, placing the man in a position where every answer could mean a beating. Chard needs more moments like this without resorting to Liz Taylor camp.

Set designer Brad Darvas and costume designer John Woodland create a palpable sense of ancient Egypt. Massive carved pillars frame the action, set in the shadow of the pyramids. Scenes are often lit by a full moon.

The biggest trick in staging "Antony and Cleopatra" is pulling off that final act in which Antony, after failing to run himself through with his sword, insists on being reunited with his love. The endless death scene can be an excuse for Shakespearean hamminess, but Montane never fails to remind us that this is indeed a great man fallen.

Overall, veteran director Lavinia Hart has mounted a handsome production of "Antony and Cleopatra." If there's a tragic flaw here, it's that she has spread her cast too thin.


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