|Erotic transcendence and fiery sexuality in Center Valley, PA
posted by Ralph Malachowski on Aug 1, 2019 10:30am | comments
“Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone – we find it with another.” – Thomas Merton
William Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra is now onstage at the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival in Center Valley, PA, until August 4. A tale of two awe-inspiring world leaders and their tragic downfall, this play was first presented in 1607, shortly after Shakespeare finished Macbeth. Both Cleopatra and Mark Antony are known to most people in the twenty-first century. No mean feat for any historical characters. And what a time in history it was. Julius Caesar was recently murdered in Rome by his friends. Mark Antony, of course, was prominently featured in Julius Caesar, another play by Shakespeare. We meet Antony years later when Octavius Caesar, Julius Caesar’s heir, is joined by Lepidus and Mark Antony to rule the known world. Mark Antony has been neglecting his duties while enjoying for too long the love and caresses of Queen Cleopatra of Egypt. And so the story begins.
Some of our readers may have seen the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 1974 production of Antony and Cleopatra when it was televised. The illustrious South African actress Janet Suzman was Cleopatra. The scholar Harold Bloom wrote at length about it, since he was so smitten by Dame Janet’s portrayal. On this stage today, as luck would have it, another illustrious South African actress is playing Cleopatra. Nondumiso Tembe embodies the fiercely sexual queen, inspiring men to lose their senses in her presence. Ms. Tembe gives an exhilarating performance bristling with animal energy. Best known for her work in the hit television series True Blood, she is impossible to look away from for even a second while she is onstage. Her performance is fiercely concentrated and seemingly spontaneous, as she is pliant and liquid one moment, then terrifying, even homicidal the next. Her death is incomparably tragic. O, Ptah, where is thy sting with Ms. Tembe as Cleopatra. When she threatens Antony’s servant Eros with a knife, she very nearly falls upon him with it drawn. Both director Eleanor Holdridge and fight director J. Alex Cordaro have done splendidly by Ms. Tembe and all the cast. The war scenes are piercingly visceral; the rowdy drinking scene aboard Pompey’s ship was enthralling, and the torture of Thidias was cringe-worthy.
As Antony, Neal Bledsoe struck a manly figure in handsome middle age. He was totally believable as a war hero and general who struck fear into the hearts of men. Mr. Bledsoe is well-known as a television actor, with several soap operas and the hit series The Man in the High Castle. His credits include being the commercial face (and body) of an Old Spice Man.
Strong support was provided by Liam Craig as Enobarbus, Justin Mark as a dewy, voluptuous Octavius Caesar, who made the famed remark that he was husband to every wife and wife to every husband in Rome quite believable. It is no wonder that he charmed Julius Caesar to adopt him and make him his heir. Matthew Floyd Miller was a fine Eros, while Talley Gale heightened the incestuous tension between herself and her brother Octavius. Luigi Sottile shone as Pompey the Junior, as well as a strikingly handsome figure as the often shirtless Thidias. Eleanor Handley was cast as a female Agrippa. At first blush, it was an odd choice, since she was referred to by Enobarbus as a woman. There was a bit of romantic fire between them when Agrippa invited Enobarbus to share her/his hospitality, then awkward moments when they parted. Ms. Handley was a fine actress who assumed the part of Agrippa nobly.
Antony and Cleopatra at the Labuda Center for the Performing Arts may be a bit of a drive for most Philadelphians, but it is a richly rewarding experience. Shakespeare created some of his most luscious speeches, created incomparable sexual tension, and thrillingly and devastatingly commented on war, those who hold and keep power, and the power of choices made.
Antony and Cleopatra at the Labuda Center for the Performing Arts at DeSales University, Center Valley, PA, until August 4. For more information about this play and the rest of the season, visit www.pashakespeare.org .