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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, July 20, 2006

'Antony' immerses audience in drama

By Joseph T. Rozmiarek
Advertiser Drama Critic


Earle Ernst Lab Theatre, University of Hawai'i-Manoa

7:30 p.m. tonight and tomorrow, 3 p.m. Saturday

$18 general, $16 seniors and military, $10 students


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Shakespeare's "Antony and Cleopatra," the second production of the Hawaii Shakespeare Festival, contains some of the playwright's most beautiful quotes and two of his most flawed tragic characters.

Enobarbus captures Cleopatra's mystique with the phrase, "The barge she sat in, like a burnished throne, burned on the water." And the queen goes to her suicide with the famous lines, "Give me my robe, put on my crown. I have immortal longings."

Director Harry Wong III gives the historical/political/love story a cinematic feel.

With 39 scenes quickly alternating among numerous land and sea locales in Egypt and the Roman Empire, somebody has to direct traffic.

Wong assigns the duty to Dusty Behneras the Soothsayer. In this interpretation, the normally tiny role is also a one-person chorus. Behneras announces and observes each scene and ultimately bites into flesh as the surrogate snake that brings on the tragic denouement.

This is Wong's take on the nature of tragedy, to immerse the audience in the characters' "rush and passion" and truly live in their world. Ultimately, after the ploys and reverses of the first 20 scenes, the approach begins to work.

Intermission comes after Antony's crushing defeat at the hands of Octavius Caesar's army. As his men quietly desert him, Antony, on his knees and sobbing, clutches at his loyal lieutenant Enobarbus, and descends into self-destruction as the lights fade to black.

The rest of the play is clearly Antony's story, as Reb Beau Allen his hair and beard streaked with grey to show his seniority over the boy-Caesar Octavius (Brent Yoshikami) fails to rally due to a series of bad choices, confused values, and the defects of earthly love.

It's a showpiece for Allen, who manages not only to show the age and exhaustion of Antony's final days but to underscore it with the palpable tragic flaw that ruins his strong male friendships and has him botch his own suicide.

And what of Cleopatra, the enigmatic historical figure who shook two empires and provided Elizabeth Taylor with her most controversial film role? Taurie Kinoshita circles it around the edges, inching closer toward its center, holding tightly to its core even as Antony loses control.

At times Kinoshita makes the queen seem rash and shallow, using sex to manipulate the men who control her world. But ultimately, she is stronger than Antony, choosing her destiny and denying Octavius any satisfaction in his military victory.

As Octavius, Brent Yoshikami is a study in tentativeness, unsuited to the passion of war. Lacking Antony's charisma, he prevails because he has the sense not to estrange his power base.

By contrast, Antony's strongest supporters fail him. Enobarbus (nicely played with growing emotion by Gilbert Molina) goes over to Octavius and Eros (Ryan Sutherlan) destroys himself in a moment of high feeling.

John Mussack enjoys two good scenes as the Messenger first experiencing Cleopatra's wrath at his honesty, then enjoying her approval of his deception.

But the flaws of the central pair remain the main focus Cleopatra as the "false soul of Egypt" and Antony, whose "breaking of a noble thing should cause a greater crack." It's a compelling story set against the backdrop of world affairs. The audience must decide whether they were truly tragic or extravagantly foolish.