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Brooklyn On Line - The Arts Scene

Anthony & Cleopatra at The Brooklyn Lyceum

Reviewed by Kathleen Keske
Oct 26 2002

The Odyssey Theatre Ensemble, in it's inaugural year, is currently presenting an exciting production of Shakespeare's Anthony & Cleopatra through October 27, at the Brooklyn Lyceum in Park Slope, Brooklyn. The Brooklyn Lyceum houses a fairly new performing space, in a building rich with Brooklyn history. It is a Landmark Building that was formerly Brooklyn Bathhouse No. 7, built by the famous Robert Moses in 1907. The converted space at the Lyceum is vast, with high ceilings and two staircases "upstage" on the left and right connected by a catwalk. The immense feeling of this former bathhouse is a perfect setting for the likes of Shakespeare plays.

As the director, Rachel Macklin, of the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble relates in her Director's Note, "...the characters are delightfully human... Anthony & Cleopatra are cognizant of their flaws. Not only that, they celebrate them, which adds an endearing element of self-awareness to their characters..." The actors in this production truly bring forth their character's full awareness of delighting in their human flaws. Gilberto Ron as Anthony portrays a powerful man, knowing what is required of him, yet we see in his finely defined performance how Anthony falls utterly for the charming yet willful Cleopatra, played here by Stacee Mandeville with the strength and humor required of the role. The passionate interplay between Ron and Mandeville as Anthony & Cleopatra is always genuinely felt, whether it be love or rage. We well see in Mandeville's Cleopatra the thought behind her character's constant planning & scheming for what she desires.

John Phillips gives us an extremely strong, detailed performance as Octavius Caesar. Here is a man who honestly believes in what he thinks is morally right, and Phillips shows us in a wonderfully multi-layered interpretation the inner struggle of a man who first sees the Roman Empire fairly and firmly politically split into three (especially as Anthony marries his Caesar's sister, Octavia), then must deal authoritatively as alliances disintegrate with the known love affair of Anthony and Cleopatra. As each new development is made known to Caesar, Phillips displays with such physical and vocal detail the amazement, quick decision-making, and conflicting emotions of Caesar.

The Enobarbus of Bob Harbaum is strong yet humorous, and touching in a multi-faceted performance as a man initially devoted to Anthony. Harbaum has many varied scenes in which to exhibit his finely tuned acting abilities, as Enobarbus plays the political games.

The Charmian and Iras of Dawn Elane and Holly MacGibbon portrayed well-timed humor in earlier scenes, yet also the sorrow and strength near the end when Cleopatra takes her own life. The death preparation scene was well enhanced by a fitting song sung by Cleopatra, while a proper wig change and application of what seemed to be death makeup on Cleopatra by Charmian and Iras took place.

The water battle scene was cleverly staged using the two stairways upstage and to the extreme right and left in the Lyceum. One truly felt a battle on the water was occurring as the men rowed their "oars" on their respective "boats" using said stairways. The fights scenes as choreographed by Dawn Elane (also portraying Charmian), were executed well. Also the use of a drum by Christi Spain-Savage in a battle scene was a brilliant idea that brought the drama of the battle to a higher pitch.

The many difficult entrances and exits of the cast were staged very clearly by director, Rachel Macklin. As we quickly shifted from one locale to another, one always understood where we were by her use of different parts of the vast Lyceum space and by the clean and efficient bringing on and off of props by various members of the cast. The costumes were very professional, beautiful and evocative of this bygone era of history.

Also of note were the performances of J. Kevin Tallent as Agrippa, Sia Shahriari as Menas/Dolabella, Erin Kate Howard as Octavia and Christi Spain-Savage as Soothsayer/Drummer. In reality, the whole cast was strong, as every character was very real and believable, and was usually well-defined emotionally. One always felt the shifting loyalties between the many characters. The bare-bones set served to showcase the drama by the well thought-out direction by Rachel Macklin and the fine detailed acting by the wonderful cast.

With such a moving and appealing production of Anthony & Cleopatra in the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble's first year, one can only hope to see more of the same in future productions by this excellent fledgling company - hopefully performed at the marvelous Brooklyn Lyceum!

For tickets and info: www.gowanus.com
227 4th Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11215
R train to Union Street