An epic love story is a tall order to fill, even if you’re Seattle Shakespeare Company and even if you’ve cast “it” couple Hans Altwies and Amy Thone as the famous doomed lovers. Or is it a tall order because you’ve cast them? Sorry to say it, but these talented titans of the local stage (spouses in real life) bring way more brain than sensuality to the titter-prone tragedy. Likely this is director John Langs’ cerebral concept, but if we don’t feel the oceanic pull of libido, the story doesn’t make sense. Antony and Cleopatra sacrifice their domains for impolitic love, but if you’re looking for the kind of outsized, voracious, crazy-making love addiction afforded by close-ups of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, bring passion binoculars. The antithesis of beguiling, Thone routinely jumps astride Altwies cheerleader-style, clenching him in physical clichés more befitting Hermia and Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream than world leaders fatally obsessed and hating themselves for their own dependency.
The opening scene of Eastern revels immediately signals that we’re not in sterile Rome but fertile, exotic Egypt. The undulations of servants in the large sandbox at the center of Jennifer Zeyl’s geometric set are the last you’ll see of volupté for the duration of the enjoyable, well-acted play. Langs’ more utilitarian “Roman” vision elegantly sorts out the factionalism among co-rulers Octavius Caesar (an emotionally austere Darragh Kennan), Republic advocate Pompey (Mike Dooly), and Antony. Sea battles and long-distance diplomacy flow fairly comprehensibly as Antony floats between Rome and Egypt, though more cutting would better suit Langs’ somewhat tabloidy spoof approach to the tale. Pete Rush drapes Thone in fresh wigs and Univision-glam fashions for every scene (complying literally, perhaps, with the “infinite variety” the text attributes to her), but we don’t viscerally smell her tidal allure. Prim Octavius does calisthenics in a track suit during a meeting with his business partner Lepidus (creaky Dan Kremer).
What proves more satisfying than these clever digs at famous characters is Charles Leggett’s portrayal of Antony’s friend Enobarbus, who, though radiating more carnal imagination than Altwies’ Antony, acts more politically—with separate but equally tragic results. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Passion or pragmatism? That was the question, and still is.