Saturday, September 11, 2010

Bravado, Passion, and Tragedy

Flatwater Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra Filled with Bravado, Passion and Tragedy

By Robert Stewart, Star City Blog, September 11, 2010


Under tempestuous skies and intermittent mists, Flatwater Shakespeare kicked off its run of Antony and Cleopatra at the Swan Theatre at Wyuka Cemetery, 3600 O St.

Not deterred by mere precipitation, the cast stormed onto the stage, immersing the audience in a world where flecks of rain could be interpreted as soft sand rasping through Cleopatra’s Egypt, or the salt spray of a sea battle.

Director Bob Hall has assembled a deep roster of Lincoln’s finest actors, who are more than up to the task of populating Shakespeare’s historo-fictionalization of the great and lamentable romantic tragedy of Cleopatra, Queen of the Nile, and Marc Antony, the Roman conqueror who aspired to love her and sacrificed an empire for the pleasure of her company.

As the titular lovers, Vince Learned and Melissa Lewis Nuss create an immediate sense of the passion that bound Antony and Cleopatra together. Learned fills Antony’s early speeches with the bravado of a soldier, and late in the play, in the face of faltering military campaigns, he creates in Antony a real sense of that bravado deflating as power slips out of his grasp.

Antony and Cleopatra share an almost manic sense of fluctuation between sensual bliss and morose introspection. In the hands of Learned and Lewis Nuss, these qualities twine around each other in a serpentine fashion, sending the two gripping together tight as magnets, or conversely falling back and gasping from the exquisite tortures they devise for each other.

Lewis Nuss gives Cleopatra a regal flirtatiousness in her most formal encounters and an unbridled wit and carnal ferocity in her more private moments. Shakespearean speeches can overwhelm some actors into a lulling recitation, but Lewis Nuss adroitly avoids this, giving her lines the breath and pacing of contemporary speech without diluting the language’s poetic power.

Under Hall’s direction, she creates a motif of gesture, clasping people and objects to her breast, above her heart, providing the attentive viewer with a bit of subtle foreshadowing and pointing to Cleopatra’s (and Antony’s) tendency to make decisions with their more emotional organs.

The two leads are surrounded by a lively, capable supporting cast. Scott Herr imbues his Caesar with a touch of a Napoleon complex, giving a hint of how powerful men throughout time often have similar motivations. Andy Dillehay pulls triple-duty as Demetrius, Messenger and Clown -- although his Demetrius is not a stand-out, his performances in the latter roles are well-played and entertaining. As Enobarbus, Nathan Weiss gives a thoughtful and ultimately melancholy power to his portrayal of a soldier who betrays his leader and friend, Antony.

In the smaller role of Soothsayer, Dustin Witte makes an impression as a shaman confronted with the portent of his visions and shaken by the experience. Also worth noting is Danny Kubert, who turns in a sinuous rendition of Mardian, a eunuch and confidant in Cleopatra’s court.

Kubert also choreographed the dance sequences that appear in the production. These sequences contribute greatly to the atmospheric resonance of the show, serving at times to introduce the Egyptian setting or as a rollicking addition to a drunken party (of which there are many). One imaginative sequence is performed by Kubert and Witte using only a length of blue fabric stretched between them to simulate a battle at sea.

Director Hall takes full advantage of the talented cast during the scenes in which the stage is crowded with characters, whether they are fighting or engaging in the aforementioned drunken celebration. As an ensemble, the cast carries its own weight, never letting a populated scene distract them from their task as actors. Fluid stage pictures of off-kilter symmetry help draw the borders of the play from one place to another.

Richard Imig’s set for the production uses raw, blonde lumber as stand-ins for the sun-blasted landscape of Egypt and the columns of Rome. The set carries over the ragged symmetries of the action it encapsulates and additionally suggests the fragility of structures, whether emotional or political. The relative simplicity of the rough-hewn boards provides visual impact and versatility, allowing itself to be imagined as a palace, or a courtyard, or a golden barge, floating on the river Nile.

It is a testament to the abilities of everyone involved in the production that when Shakespeare’s stormy story reaches its conclusion in a throne room strewn with corpses, the audience feels a deep sense of loss.

The Swan at Wyuka, which has long housed Flatwater Shakespeare’s productions, will be closing for two years for renovations following the last performance of Antony and Cleopatra on Sept. 26th. Flatwater Shakespeare will continue to produce shows at alternate locations while renovations are underway, but Antony and Cleopatra will be the last chance for audiences to see a talented cast perform in the space the company calls home. "Antony and Cleopatra" will be performed Thursdays through Sundays at 7.30 p.m. until Sept. 26. Call 473-2897.

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