Cleopatra (Alecia Pagnotta, centre) apologizes to Antony (Stefan Theriault) as her lady-in-waiting (Lauren Marshall) looks on, at a rehearsal of Antony and Cleopatra (photo by LANA MICHELIN/Advocate staff).

Modern style meets old school approach in this season of Bard on Bower

Antony and Cleopatra and Two Gentlemen of Verona will alternate on the Bower Ponds stage

Antony and Cleopatra will fall in love on the mean streets of 1970s New York in this season’s Bard on Bower.

But the Two Gentlemen of Verona will carry out their affairs of the heart in the Italianate world of the 1500s — just the way William Shakespeare envisioned it.

The two plays — one staged in contemporary style, the other strictly traditional — will alternate on the outdoor stage at Bower Ponds, starting on July 13, for Antony and Cleopatra, and July 20 for Two Gentlemen of Verona. The season runs to July 30.

The latest Prime Stock Theatre plays have different guest directors. Albertus Koett, a Red Deer College graduate who previously directed several plays for Central Alberta Theatre, is tackling the tragic romance that’s still closely associated with the 1963 Liz Taylor/Richard Burton film.

Koett’s version of Antony and Cleopatra will feel more like Serpico. It’s being re-set in a gritty urban centre of 40 years ago. All of Rome and Egypt is being transposed to a few city blocks in The Big Apple.

Koett said Antony, played by Stefan Theriault, is working his way up in an ambitious street gang. His downfall begins when he falls for a girl from a few street away.

Antony becomes so besotted that he forgets his responsibility to his gangster partners. “It’s about the struggle between love and responsibility, and how to balance that,” Koett explained.

While Antony spends all his time with Cleopatra, lesser gang members see opportunities to rise up and displace him. “Antony’s absence makes it possible,” added Koett, who’s directing a cast of 12 actors, including Alecia Pagnotta as Cleopatra.

The focus is on making Shakespearean language more street-wise and relatable to the actors, and therefore the audience. He feels he’s been able to pare down unnecessary scenes without taking away from the story about the fight between “the heart and what needs to be done.”

Red Deer composer Morgan McKee has created a moody, taped sound-scape for Antony and Cleopatra.

By contrast, Two Gentlemen of Verona, will feature actors performing on fiddles and trombone each night an original love theme, composed by Piper Rempel.

Eric Pettifor, a professional actor and director from Calgary last seen in the title role in the bard’s Julius Caesar, is directing this comic tale about two friends vying for the same woman.

Pettifor wants to give Two Gentlemen the same feel as an audience would have experienced in Shakespeare’s day. To simulate a thrust stage, some of the action will unfold on artificial turf rolled out into the audience (to protect actors’ from goose poop on the Bower Ponds grass).

Pettifor’s 10-person cast will wear Elizabethan costumes while enacting this improbably comic story of betrayal that unfolds as a love triangle between Valentine, his best friend Proteus, and the Duke’s daughter, Silvia.

The only changes are some minor line re-assignments and “tweaks” that eliminate sexism and make the play’s ending more palatable to a modern audience. “I’m turning the clock back 400 years,” said Pettifor, whose goal is the same as Shakespeare’s: “I hope people come here and are entertained!”

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