You might think it foolhardy for Theatricum Botanica to take on a play that calls for a cast of thousands – well, anyway, dozens. But this 299-seat outdoor theater, nestled in Topanga Canyon, manages very well with its production of Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra.” Under the clever direction of Ellen Geer, the chameleon stage is transformed into a boudoir, a ship, a battlefield. A few soldiers serve as a battalion.
Although the central story revolves around Antony and his obsession with Cleopatra, a great deal of the tumultuous history of the time is covered. After the assassination of Julius Caesar, a triumvirate rules Rome, but Octavius Caesar is determined to claim Rome and Egypt for himself.
Battles rage on land and sea and, ultimately, Antony is defeated. His desire to live in peace in Egypt with its Queen is thwarted. All this complicated business is handled extremely well, not only by the Bard, but by the director and talented cast.
The two lovers are played by Joel Swetow and Abby Cradon, and a passionate couple they are! Cradon plays Cleopatra as a spoiled, imperious woman with a hot temper and a kittenish mien. It is easy to see why Antony, tough in warfare, is soft in his response to her wiles.
Although the cast is large, the various roles are soon sorted out and the Theatricum players, old and new, are up to the challenge. Outstanding are Steven Matt as Enobarbus, Chad Jason Scheppner as Octavius Caesar and Mike Peebler as Pompey. Cleopatra’s famous handmaidens, Iras and Charmion, are delightful in the hands of Kendra Potter and Melina Marshall.
Working on a tight budget, Erica Frank, costumer, has managed to clothe the cast reasonably well while Jim Thomas as weapons builder has gamely armed all the gentlemen.
“Antony and Cleopatra” is a difficult play to stage but is well worth the effort. The quest for power, as well as love, resonates in today’s world. Shakespeare’s famous description of Cleopatra, “Age cannot wither her” certainly applies to this thought-provoking drama.
“Antony and Cleopatra” plays on Sunday afternoons at 3 p.m. in repertory with “You Never Can Tell,” by George Bernard Shaw, “Omnium Gatherum” by Theresa Rebek and Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros, and “Twelfth Night” by you ought to know who.
The theater is located at 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd. It is advisable to call 310.455.3723 to get information on dates and times. Be prepared for warm afternoons and cool evenings. A cushion for the bench seating will make the play seem shorter.