ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA by William Shakespeare, directed by Ruth Madoc-Jones (Shakespeare in the Rough). At Withrow Park. To September 4. $15 suggested donation. 416-556-6226. See Continuing, page 93. Rating: NNN Rating: NNNNN
The natural setting of Withrow Park, with its rolling hills, complements this timely play about power and war in this year's energetic and unpretentious Shakespeare in the Rough production of Antony And Cleopatra .
Though actors occupy a small, canvas-draped stage between two ancient trees, they are also free to lope, war and rage in the hills beyond, adding a heightened physicality and tension to the show.
Director Ruth Madoc-Jones uses the natural setting simply and artfully to illustrate that wars are waged because of ego and land disputes. The dissolution of the barriers between the actors and the audience within this landscape parallels the dissolving loyalties and alliances in this tragic drama of imperialism.
The production is marred slightly by an uneven cast, with lesser roles played by stronger actors. Minor players with major skills carry the physical and narrative burden of a convoluted plot while the leads rush through critical moments, unmindful of pacing.
Gregory Prest , for example, captures the doomed Caesar's feckless immaturity well and brings a complexity to a role that is often - and easily - underplayed by lazier actors. Lesley Dowey 's sultry and rapacious Cleopatra is sexy and convincing.
The weakest link is Antony, played by Sean Dixon , who interprets the warrior's drunk-with-power attitude a bit too literally; he physically weaves throughout his mechanical performance. Plagued by his conflicting passions, Antony is a complicated man: a soldier and lover fraught with whimsy. But Dixon's interpretation of Antony is too literal to highlight these subtleties.
An outdoor production poses challenges when it comes to voice modulation and projection. Madoc-Jones would have done well to focus on training the cast to screech less and project more.
Despite these shortcomings, Shakespeare in the Rough's 12th annual offering is a compelling and creative production about war, folly and ego at a time when these destructive forces have free reign.