Longtime collaborators Walter Tunis, Adam Luckey and Joe Ferrell share a light moment during rehearsal at the University of Kentucky's Guignol Theatre for SummerFest's Antony and Cleopatra, which opens Wednesday in the Arboretum. Copyrighted LexGo photo by Rich Copley.
If the words “Shakespeare history play” don’t make you think funny and sexy, SummerFest has a production that aims to change your mind.
Director Joe Ferrell sees a Bonnie and Clyde type of humor and steamy sexiness in that whacky Mediterranean couple, Antony and Cleopatra.
But Ferrell says the cast he has is a key to bringing that out in his production for SummerFest, which opens Wednesday at the Arboretum on Alumni Drive.
“All of these folks have done major roles for years, and there are so many ages and types represented here,” Ferrell says, acknowledging the all-star cast seated around the lounge area outside the Guignol Theatre in the University of Kentucky Fine Arts Building.
That ensemble includes Sidney Shaw, who played Julius Caesar and King Lear for the Lexington Shakespeare Festival; Paul Carelli, who played Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing for LSF; Eric Johnson, whose leads have included one of the Three Musketeers and Henry Drummond in Inherit the Wind; Walter Tunis, whose many turns include Macbeth and Adam Luckey, who plays leading roles like postmen deliver mail.
“There’s a great deal of comfort here, and that gives you an ability to try different things and serve Joe’s vision of the play,” Shaw says.
Tunis says that having a cast of high-caliber players, “illuminates some of the smaller roles,” and thereby illuminates the play. Ferrell cites Shaw’s role as Alexas as an example. In Shaw’s performance, he becomes a character who sees through a lot of Cleopatra’s facades.
“It’s an Alexas that I have not seen before,” Ferrell says.
One of the keys to bringing new colors to the characters is for the actors to make sure they are acting and not reciting.
“The language is so beautiful, you just want to stand there and proclaim it,” Shaw says. “But it has to be done with action and intent.”
Intent is a particular key with Antony, a character who essentially gives away a nation for one woman.
Antony and Cleopatra can be a long play, running as long as four hours in some productions. For SummeFest, where two-to-two-and-a-half hours is the target time, Ferrell has had to cut quite a bit.
“We decided that the focus of the audience is on the title characters,” Ferrell says. “So we stuck to telling that story.”
Therefore, Johnson and Ellie Clark, who play the title pair, have been encouraged to make their relationship very physical, driving home the point to the audience that they can’t keep their hands off each other, which sets the play’s events in motion.
That’s kind of obvious when you think about it. What may not be so apparent if you haven’t studied the script is a juxtaposition of absurdity and tragedy. Ferrell likens that to a scene in Bonnie and Clyde where a getaway driver struggles to park a car while the title couple engages in what becomes a bloody bank robbery.
In Antony and Cleopatra, he sees the same humor in the couple’s death scenes, where Antony’s ineptitude has him bleeding to death for quite a while and where a servant brings Cleopatra asps to do her in saying, “Enjoy the worm.”
Tunis observes, “There hasn’t been a night of rehearsal we haven’t cracked up.”
Terry Withers, who plays Maecenas, says, “The play doesn’t easily fit any category.”
But for them, this production is easily filed under rewarding and enjoyable, which is why they’re all more than happy to come fill even minor roles.
“We all know each other,” says Kim Dixon, who plays Iras. “We love acting together, and we love acting for Joe.”