Greenstage’s production of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra epitomized all of the pit-falls of Shakespeare in the Park. First of all, the play was badly chosen; the tragedies and histories do not work well outdoors in the summer. Ninety minutes is usually the maximum amount of time an audience can sit outdoors, without an intermission; this production ran for 2 hours and 15 minutes straight through. There was no central concept so there was nothing new, interesting or insightful about the play. In any outdoor production, the natural setting is very imposing and has to be part of the production, rather than ignored as it was in this production. Beautiful trees, and a sunny summer night do not communicate the tragedy and betrayal of Anthony and Cleopatra
The play was staged in front of a screen with purple and yellow panels; the screen was not very wide so it reduced the size of the “stage”. This was unfortunate because everything was played too close to the audience; as a result the battle scenes, fight choreography and suicide scenes made people laugh, which presumably was not the desired effect.
A major distraction for the audience were the mismatched set and costume. The costuming was particularly bad, with most of the Romans walking around in dull orange or yellow pajamas/yoga pants, which needed to be ironed. The Egyptian headdresses of the Egyptians looked very sloppy. It was odd because although the show attempted to use the period costumes of ancient Rome, they did not use the traditional Roman Legion leather kilts.
Although Cleopatra had a beautiful costume, and Octavia had an adequate costume, the costumes of the Cleopatra’s ladies in waiting, in vibrant pink and turquoise, visually screamed at the audience, when they were standing in front of the purple and yellow screen
Except for Kate Sumpter who played Octavia, the actors “declamed” their lines and substituted anger and volume for anything real. The direction lacked any creativity, and the blocking ended up being “chorus line” as a result of having so little space to move around; which was a pity because had they just used the amphitheatre it could have been staged in a more interesting way.
Shakespeare in the Park can work, even on a limited budget, but it needs creative direction, the right kind of play and actors who can make the text their own, rather than just recite.
Antony and Cleopatra, by William Shakespeare, Greenstage. Directed by Patrick Bentley. Thurs-Sun. July 8-August 13, in parks in Seattle, Lynnwood, Redmond, Fall City and Burien. www.greenstage.org. Free to the public.