Mark Antony (Stefan Theriault) argues with Cleopatra (Alecia Pagnotta), while Charmian (Lauren Marshall) observes from the left in Bard on Bower’s Antony and Cleopatra. (Photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).

Review: Antony and Cleopatra find love and peril on the mean streets of New York

Bard on Bower production is long on grit, short on romance

A clever, streetwise love story — with switchblades — is unfolding on the outdoor stage at Bower Ponds.

Bard on Bower’s production of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, which opened Thursday, is like the flip-side of Romeo and Juliet.

Not only are these two lovers more jaded and politically scheming than the teenagers from Verona, they also don’t spend a lot of time cosying up to each other on stage.

Instead, Tony and Cleo prefer to: 1) argue jealously, 2) vent suspicions at each other, and 3) threaten to kill the other because of an alleged betrayal.

With that kind of love, it’s no wonder this Prime Stock Theatre production is being directed with a certain Mean Streets vibe by Albertus Koett, who’s moved the action to the gritty New York of the 1970s

To use another era-appropriate analogy, Antony and Cleopatra are like the Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen of their day. You know these two are really bad together, but they also don’t fare so well apart.

What any fatal attraction should do is generate is a lot of steamy heat. But while Stefan Theriault (as Antony), is believable as a gang leader who gets respect from his friends and enemies, and Alecia Pagnotta, (as Cleopatra), gives us the sense she’s mercurial and desirable, their love affair could definitely use more hormonal sizzle.

Shakespeare gives his title lovers so little stage time together, amid all the battles and politicking, the couple must make the most of it for the play’s tragic ending to work.

That said, Koett’s Antony and Cleopatra is a smart production that works well on other levels — from the disco scene that ends with a showy sword fight between two bouncers dressed as Roman Centurions, to the ’70s switchblade fights with garbage can lids brought down on heads, to the “pretty worm” ending that’s apres peau for the druggie decade.

The 12 actors give good flow to the Elizabethan speeches. Besides Theriault and Pagnotta, particular standouts are Mihai Dan as Octavius, Brock Beal as the hapless messenger, and Lauren Marshall as Charmian.

Besides Koett’s interesting re-imagining of this story, he keeps the action rolling by trimming some wordiness and focusing on pivotal scenes. And local composer Morgan McKee creates an evocative ’70s soundscape.

While it will help audience members to pre-familiarize themselves with the plot line, they’ll find Antony and Cleopatra well worth a visit to Bower Ponds — hard edges and all.

The play runs at 7 p.m. July 14, 15, 19, 23, and 27, and at 1 p.m. on July 22 and 29. Admission is by donation. Bring lawn chairs, blankets and bug spray. Two Gentlemen of Verona opens on July 20. For more information, please visit www.primestocktheatre.com.

lmichelin@reddeeradvocate.com

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