“Antony and Cleopatra” Sizzles at Folger Theatre

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By Sara Dudley Brown, Theatre Editor

A moment of flirtatious play between Mark Antony (Cody Nickell) and his Cleopatra (Shirine Babb) in the epic tale of “Antony and Cleopatra”. Photo by Teresa Wood

“Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety.” Can you name the Shakespeare play from which this quote originated? Yes, right you are, “Antony and Cleopatra.” It was so lovely to hear it during a beautiful and moving performance of  William Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra” at The Folger Theatre in Washington, DC. It is considered by many to be the most romantic of Shakespeare’s plays, and Antony and Cleopatra to be the greatest lovers in history. And it doesn’t disappoint.

Cleopatra (Shirine Babb) and Mark Antony (Cody Nickell) share a moment of passion in Folger Theatre’s “Antony and Cleopatra”. Photo by Teresa Wood

Antony, portrayed by a ruggedly handsome Cody Nickell, and Cleopatra, personified by the gorgeous and sexy Shirine Babb, appear to be at a crossroad. It’s a dangerous time for them not only because they are both powerful leaders of their countries (he rules the Roman Empire with Octavius Caesar, played by Dylan Paul and Lepidus, played by Robbie Gay, and she is the queen of Egypt), but because they are both willful beyond any understanding, and for years their insatiable desire (Antony’s wife not withstanding) has taken precedence over all else. It’s beginning to show.

War rages and Rome is struggling for world dominance. Antony, after ten years of living in Alexandria, remains captivated by Cleopatra’s erotic appeal and pays less and less attention to his job and his need to be at home and working in Rome. Therein hangs the tale. And I’ll bet you know how it ends–not well for either one of them.

Cleopatra (Shirine Babb, center), Iras (Nicole King), and Charmian (Simoné Elizabeth Bart) make their entrance in Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra”. Photo by Teresa Wood

The intimate Folger Theatre is transformed into an in-the-round theatre just for this production and the Tony Cisek scenic design works beautifully. Cleopatra and Antony have no privacy, nor does anyone else onstage, and they seem to thrive on it. Director Robert Richmond uses the space to great technical advantage. You see the love-making as well as the beautifully choreographed fight and dance scenes (you should see these guys dance) by Fight Captain Robbie Gay, and Movement Director John Floyd. Oh, the testosterone! The lighting design by Andrew F. Griffin is brilliant, illuminating not only the problems of the lovers and their antagonists, but allowing us to almost feel the passion, the pain, and the temperature rise as things heat up on stage. The music, too, adds to the sexiness via a drum-laden score by Sound Designer, Adam Stamper.

Dylan Paul as Octavius Caesar in Folger Theatre’s “Antony and Cleopatra”. Photo by Teresa Wood

And speaking of heating up—the Mariah Hale costumes worn by Cleopatra are not only shimmering and gorgeous, but all are figure skimming, jeweled and designed to highlight her feminine wiles. Cleopatra’s ladies, Iras (also Octavia) played by Nicole King, and Charmian, portrayed by Simoné Elizabeth Bart, also have beautifully draped, gorgeously-colored fabric tunics (with coordinating chain accents) and fulfill their roles with aplomb. One of my favorite characters of the evening was Enobarbus as portrayed by Nigel Gore with his slight cockney accent. He works so hard to believe in even one of his masters, he finally seems to run out of steam just before it’s over for him. Another favorite of mine is the eunuch Mardian, played by John Floyd. In his lying scene with Antony he shows he’s learned a lot about duplicity from the world’s greatest tutors. Antony and Cleopatra die as a result of this prevarication, not to mention Cleopatra’s desire to avoid humiliation. Life lesson here!

I enjoyed this show for its exuberance in all things sexy and romantic, as well as the highly-charged atmosphere of world dominance seemingly within arm’s reach, but, ah, well…it was not to be.

Ticketing and Performance Dates: “Antony and Cleopatra” is on stage at Folger Theatre from now through November 19, 2017. Tickets are $35-$79. Discounts for students, seniors, military, educators, and groups of ten or more are available and may be purchased through the Folger Theatre Box Office at (202) 544-7077 or online at www.folger.edu/theatre.