Pirates. Exotic dancers. Buff men in gladiator costumes. Sounds like a wild Hollywood party. But, no, it’s Antony and Cleopatra, playing at the Richard Goad Theatre through March 21.
Set in ancient Egypt and classical Rome, this is Shakespeare’s version of the true-life lust and power story of Mark Antony, one of the three rulers of the Roman Empire along with Octavius Caesar and Lepidus, and the last active pharaoh, Cleopatra. The commanding figure of Fred Mancuso, who plays Antony, and the complex and intriguing Cleopatra (Dana Coyle) make Shakespeare’s more famous Romeo and Juliet look like misguided puppy love.
Cleopatra, both in Shakespeare’s script and in Coyle’s performance, steals the show. One wonders if she truly has feelings for Antony or if everything is just some elaborate game for her amusement. This is made especially clear when she hears of Antony’s demise. She is far more upset about the prospect of being paraded about Rome as a whore than she is about the death of her supposed beloved. This mercurial Cleopatra is riveting in the same way as are sociopaths Tony Soprano and Frank Underwood.
Make no bones about it: Antony, too, has a dark side. He has a wife at home in Rome, and when she dies, marries his good friend Octavius Caesar’s (Steven Masters) sister in a half-hearted attempt to patch things up with Octavius. Yet he proclaims: “Though I make the marriage for our peace, in the east my pleasure lies.” What a way to begin a relationship.
Casting for Antony is perfect. One could not want for a more masculine, imposing figure than Fred Mancuso. Hats off to Eduardo Mora, who stepped in less than 24 hours before the opening-night performance, to play Lepidus. Mike Austin (Enobarbus) has been with Long Beach Shakespeare Company since 2007, and it has been a pleasure to see him mature as an actor. In this play, for example, he at one point plays the most convincing drunk you’ll ever see.
Kudos to producer-costume designer Dana Leach for Cleopatra’s attire. Doesn’t every woman worth her salt want to lounge around on divans and swoon in her boudoir while dressed in a shimmering gold gown, cat-eye makeup and bling galore. C’mon, admit it. The royal purple, pleated shift– or whatever it’s called– that Mancuso’s Antony wears surely arouses anyone who has ever enjoyed rock-solid male calves.
One suggestion to the three dancers who entertain drunken Romans aboard a pirate ship: Don’t smile during your dancing. Remain aloof. This is far more alluring and mysterious. Afterwards, when you’re cozying up to the revelers, turn on the flirty smiles. Unapproachable, seductive females set against rent-by-the-hour working girls would make for an interesting juxtaposition.
Antony and Cleopatra continues at the Richard Goad Theatre through Sunday, March 21. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets are $20 general admission and $10 students. Tickets may be purchased at LBShakespeare.org or by calling (562) 997-1494. The Richard Goad Theatre is located at 4250 Atlantic Ave.