The Rapidian

Pleasure Lies in the East: Pigeon Creek's "Antony and Cleopatra" performs at Dog Story

Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company performs the dense and complex "Antony and Cleopatra," giving Grand Rapids an excellent, if a little hard to follow, production of this historical romance.
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"Antony and Cleopatra"

Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company is a non-profit, traveling Shakespeare company dedicated to presenting authentic Shakespeare productions in nontraditional venues (such as churches, warehouses, etc.) around the West Michigan area.

 

Antony and Cleopatra runs Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. through August 19 at Dog Story Theater, 7 Jefferson Ave. SE in downtown Grand Rapids.

 

Tickets can be ordered and reserved online at http://www.dogstorytheater.com/ Adult Gen. Admission: $12; Students/Seniors: $6

 

The show is directed by Katherine Mayberry and stars Heather Hartnett as Cleopatra and Paul Riopelle as Marc Antony. The ensemble cast includes Chaz Russell Bratton, Matt Fowler, Scott Lange, Clair Mahave, Bridget McCarthy, Owen McIntee, Mychael Overton, Janna Rosencranz, and Joseph Valente.

/Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company

Sometimes a girl just can't catch a break.

In Pigon Creek Shakespeare Company's production of "Antony and Cleopatra", now running at Dog Story Theater through August 19, Cleopatra suffers through war, a married lover, and a certain poisonous snake all in the name of her beloved Antony.

Cleopatra is the ultimate contradiction of a woman. Largely believed to be the most beatiful woman of her time, she is both a seductress and a leader; a lover and a warrior. Actress Heather Hartnett plays the famed queen of Egypt for all her contradictions; she is first introduced leading her lover by the barrel of a rifle looking as if she had just cornered a buck--he is a conquest. But the love she shares with the debonaire and honorable Marc Antony--played here by New York and Shakespeare theater veteran Paul Riopelle--is genuine, if a bit scandalous as he is married to the war-raging Fluvia.

Much of the Egyptian set scenes drip in decadence from the colorful, flowing costumes Rosalind Srb dressed the handmaidens in, to the brazen exchanging of kisses--and possibly more--between women who are not necessarily lovers. Contrast this with the militaristic tone of scenes set in Rome, where the mostly male actors are dressed in uniform khakis straight out of "Lawrence of Arabia" and speak in clipped verse. Ms. Srb's choice of Roman dress seems to compare them to a more modern empire that ruled a third of the globe: the British.

Following the plot from this point forward may be a bit of a chore, as "Antony and Cleopatra" takes on the attributes of a Shakespeare history play more often than a tragedy. When Antony gets word that his wife has died, he returns to Rome to clean up the mess of the war with his co-rulers--the so-called Triumverate of Rome after the death of Julius Caesar--Octavius and Lepidus (Aquinas College student Owen McIntee and GVSU student Matt Fowler, respectively). As a show of solidarity, Antony marries Octavius' sister only to scorn her and send her back to Rome when he returns to Egypt. Octavius angrily wages war with Egypt in retaliation and a number of off-stage battles ensue. There is a plot synopsis in the program that the audience is encouraged to read, but it only covers the first half of the show.

When the production continues in the second half, the audience is entirely on its own. The production clips along at a breakneck pace, with actors entering while others exit from the previous scene. The pace is a little too fast, though, when it is easy to get tripped up in the Elizabethan language, leaving some audience members lost to what's going on--or more importantly, why it's happening. It will be obvious that Antony is committing suicide, but it may be hard to understand what led him to do it.

The most entertaining portions of the production are the pre-show and intermission musical interludes. You'll want to come early to hear acoustic covers of contemporary songs that actually fit the context of the play. This production opens with two songs, including a cover of U2's "Mysterious Ways." But the most surprising cover happens during intermission when actor Chaz Russell Bratton, in character as Sextus Pompeius AKA Pompey a war-waging pirate, raps through a rendition of LL Cool J's "Momma Said Knock You Out"--something that Musical Director Scott Lange says the company had never attempted before.

In spite of the potential confusion, audiences will experience a great evening of entertainment from Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company's current production of "Antony and Cleopatra". You just may have to consult Cliff's Notes afterward to the get the most out of it.

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