Antony & Cleopatra

By William Shakespeare (St. Louis Shakespeare Company)

Shakespeare's tragedy Antony & Cleopatra opened the St. Louis Shakespeare Company's 1999 three-play summer season at the Grandel Theatre. It's a big production with lively, sprawling battle scenes; an excellent boys'-night-out drunken party with all three members of the Second Triumvirate in attendance; and some lovely small moments — Mark Dailey's short scene as the garrulous clown who brings Cleopatra the snake by whose bite she will commit suicide, for instance, or the handsomely clear speech of Marzban Patel as Proculeius.

The problem is with the overall concept of the play and, indeed, of Shakespearean tragic plays in general. Most of them hinge on debilitating flaws in their protagonists' insight — Othello's jealousy, Hamlet's hesitance or Macbeth's uxoriousness — that bring them down. Antony and Cleopatra are grownups with grownup responsibilities: the former for holding Rome together as it moves from republic to empire; the latter guarding the rights of her people against Rome. Neither Chopper Leifheit, who plays Antony, nor Donna M. Parroné, the production's Cleopatra, comes across as a leader of a nation. Leifheit is never convincing as a general, nor is Parroné as a queen.

This is a director's problem, not the actors'. Donna Northcott has Antony's men treat him as one of the boys, and Cleopatra's attendants never give her the deference due a queen. Why should we care about their fates if they don't? Northcott does move things along, however, and the production is never dull.

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