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Empire building and ass-grabbing in Antony and Cleopatra

If you're one of those who think there's too much sex and violence on TV — and wish there were more of that stuff onstage — then rustle up a lawn chair and start the car. The Cleveland Shakespeare Festival's production of old Will's Antony and Cleopatra, soon to play a free-of-charge open-air venue near you, is a feast of bloodlust and libido. 

And while some of the production's elements ring a bit false or forced, director Alison Garrigan keeps this potboiler bubbling for a full two hours of nonstop gripping, groping and power-grabbing. Along the way, you get a pretty good sense of how political leverage was shifting in ancient Rome, not to mention in one boudoir in Alexandria. 

Anyone who saw the stunning HBO mini-series Rome a couple of years ago is aware that Marc Antony and Cleopatra were an item — an earth-shaking one at that. This is a grand sweep of a play, abundant with glorious rhythms and poetry. So it was unfortunate that the opening-night performance was forced indoors by bad weather. Many of the actors, used to using their outside voices, tended to overpower the confined space. 

The good news is that this effort is built on the solid foundation of Carly Germany as Cleopatra and Brian Pedaci as Antony. Germany is a sensual firestorm — a genuine force of nature — and Pedaci's Antony, dressed in goth-biker gear, is almost her match. Their lip-lock scenes can definitely raise the temp, no matter how warm it is outside. 

In an attempt to imbue Cleo's world with a sense of free-floating kinky sexuality, Garrigan has the queen's attendants Charmian (Liz Jones) and Iras (Hannah Storch) stroke each other incessantly. Trouble is, their mutual fondling is so mechanical and constant, it soon loses any erotic component and feels more like a weird instructional video for obsessive-compulsive massage therapists.  

Larry Seman as Lepidus, Dusten Welch as Octavius Caesar (when he isn't rushing his lines) and Nathan Miller as a punk Pompey turn in strong supporting performances. By costuming the Caesar crowd in suits and ties and the Antony/Cleo cohort in black lace and leather, Garrigan and costumer Brenna Connor keep the adversaries straight and the plot in focus right up to the tragic, um, climax.


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