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The Fierce Love of Antony and Cleopatra

Robert Richmond has created a compelling and engaging production of Antony and Cleopatra for Washington, DC's Folger Theatre. The Dresser saw the October 15, 2017 performance.


Richmond has chosen a theater-in-the-round presentation which makes the small Folger setting even more intimate. His costume Designer Mariah Hale dresses up the scenes with vibrant costumes both for the women and the men. The alluring Cleopatra (Shirine Babb) wears eye-catching, form-fitting blue and violet negligees with gold trim. Her women attendants wear gently clinging blue ankle-length gowns while her eunuch wears complementing pajamas both in color and fabric. The soldiers, including Antony (Cody Nickell), wear lots of leather and heavy laced up boots. Antony's vest has tiered layers of leather that move down his upper arm. He wears leather pants and he, like the other soldiers, wears a type of leather apron that has thick straps with metal studs. The apron is to protect the soldier's manhood and, in this production, this costume element emphasizes the sexual component and how Antony is controlled by his attraction to an extraordinarily powerful woman.


If there was only one selling point allowed for this production, that would be the choreographed, foot-stomping dances of the soldiers and Antony. These spectacular scenes of movement are infused with high-octane testosterone. Since there is no choreographer listed in the credits, the Dresser assumes the movement design is strictly Richmond's.

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History buffs can tell you how complex the story is between these two world leaders during the time of the Roman Empire of which Mark Antony is one of the three despotic rulers and Cleopatra is just a satellite. What is essential to know is that the action of this Shakespeare play unfolds the fierce love story between Cleopatra and Antony as well as the power struggle between Antony and Octavius Caesar (Dylan Paul). Layered on top of this is Antony's sex life--he is married to a warring woman named Fulvia (she is his third wife) who dies during his extended visit to Cleopatra and when he goes back to Rome to take care of business, he marries Octavius's half-sister Octavia (Nicole King) as a peace-making political gesture. Additionally, though not prominent in Shakespeare's play is the specter of Cleopatra's late lover Julius Caesar by whom she had a son.

The prevailing climate is all about survival but survival under certain terms. Therefore, when Antony proves to be weak in battle, something he blames on Cleopatra who initially stands and fights with him but then flees, Cleopatra is wily enough to bargain with Octavius through his emissary. Antony explodes with anger and vows he will kill Cleopatra who takes shelter in her mausoleum, telling her servants to spread the word that she is dead. Hearing the news of her death, Antony asks his friend Eros (Anthony Michael Martinez) to kill him but Eros can't do it and kills himself. Antony is then forced to fall on his sword without help. Antony is wounded only and then hears Cleopatra's servant spreading the news that she is alive. He ends by dying in her arms. She, not wishing to be paraded through the streets of Rome by Octavius, commits suicide with poisonous snakes and allows herself to be bitten.

Another juicy morsel in Richmond's bag of directorial tricks is that he casts the same excellent actor in the roles of Eros and Soothsayer. Martinez, as the Soothsay, has memorable separate scenes with Antony and with Cleopatra. With Antony, Soothsayer literally shakes the warrior-lover to the bone, telling him to give wide berth to Octavius, a man who will beat Antony at any game. Cleopatra, however, beats up Soothsayer who ends up prostrate and quaking before the angry queen in a scene that is darkly comic.


Antony and Cleopatra is a rich tapestry in the hands of such a creative and smart director as Robert Richmond. The Dresser bows to Shakespeare's sonnet 150 as a final word on love and power which can be read from either Antony's or Cleopatra's perspective.


O, from what power hast thou this powerful might
With insufficiency my heart to sway?
To make me give the lie to my true sight,
And swear that brightness doth not grace the day?
Whence hast thou this becoming of things ill,
That in the very refuse of thy deeds
There is such strength and warrantise of skill
That, in my mind, thy worst all best exceeds?
Who taught thee how to make me love thee more,
The more I hear and see just cause of hate?
O, though I love what others do abhor,
With others thou shouldst not abhor my state.
If thy unworthiness raised love in me,
More worthy I to be beloved of thee.

by William Shakespeare

Photo Credits: Teresa Wood


Comments (1)

Anna Jhirad:

Excellent review. I agree that the director was clearly the star of this performance--though I think several actors--Shirine Babb, Cody Nickell and Anthony Michael Martine--deserve accolades as well. Also of interest was the contrast between the nurturing relationships among women around Cleopatra in Alexandria and the martial and confrontational interactions among men/soldiers (and even Octavia) in Rome. This was an insightful production. Kudos to the production team.

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