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In-Person Only


MONDAY, MARCH 25, 2024 | 7:30 PM

The Lucille Lortel Theatre | 121 Christopher Street

Directed by Arin Arbus

Featuring Carlo Albán, Isabel Arraiza, Shirine Babb, Jimonn Cole, Dakin Matthews, Ajay Naidu, Nicole Ari Parker, Matthew Rauch, Ariel Shafir, Derek Smith, John Douglas Thompson, and Nick Westrate.

 In this classic Jacobean tragedy of love and duty, Mark Antony is fresh from victory in battle over the assassins of Julius Caesar and now rules the Roman Empire in triumvirate with Octavius Caesar and Lepidus. While in Alexandria, Antony scandalizes Egypt and Rome alike through his passionate affair with Cleopatra, the Egyptian Queen, setting off a chain of broken alliances, jealous rages and civil war that reverberate through the known world in one of Shakespeare’s greatest historical love stories.

This reading is produced in association with The Acting Company.



Antony | John Douglas Thompson

Cleopatra | Nicole Ari Parker

Octavius Caesar | Nick Westrate

Octavia | Isabel Arraiza

Lepidus | Dakin Matthews

Enobarbus | Matthew Rauch

Pompey | Ajay Naidu

Charmian | Shirine Babb

Iras | Isabel Arraiza

Alexas / Mardian / Messenger / Seleucus | Derek Smith

Diomedes | Ajay Naidu

Soothsayer / Clown | Dakin Matthews

Eros / Canidius | Carlo Albán

Scarus / Maecenus | Ariel Shafir

Dementrius | Ajay Naidu

Dercetas | Shirine Babb

Europhronius | Dakin Matthews

Agrippa / Thidias / Dolabella | Jimonn Cole

Gallus | Ajay Naidu


Menas | Shirine Babb

Varrius | Carlo Albán


Director | Arin Arbus

Stage Manager | Jessica Fornear

Assistant Stage Manager | Jenn McNeil

Scholar | Tanya Pollard

Production Assistant | Joana Tsuhlares

General Manager | Sherri Kotimsky

Producing Director | Nathan Winkelstein


Antony and Cleopatra is one of only two Shakespeare plays to include a woman’s name in its title. This unusual framing identifies the play, like Romeo and Juliet, as a love tragedy, an intrinsically hybrid genre combining tragedy’s emphasis on a powerful man’s fall with comedy’s focus on the pleasure of surrendering to passion. It also signals a surprising balance of the sexes. Performed by apprentice boy actors, Shakespeare’s women typically have smaller roles than their male counterparts, but even with fewer lines, Cleopatra repeatedly interrupts and upstages Antony with demands, declarations, threats, and laments. Even more significantly, by outlasting and memorializing him, she claims the final word in shaping their story. Just as she refuses to be overshadowed by her famous lover, she similarly refuses to surrender to Rome’s imperial power. In the play’s contest between empire against love, Cleopatra might lose the battle, but she wins the war: Rome ultimately defeats Egypt, but Antony, as well as dignity, remains hers.

The play’s Roman characters repeatedly express bewilderment at Cleopatra’s power over their storied hero: who is she, to ensnare Antony? Although Cleopatra’s beauty has become legendary, Shakespeare’s primary source, Plutarch, attributed her magnetism to her “irresistibly compelling powers of conversation,” carried out in “any language that pleased her.” Shakespeare similarly presents her eloquence and wit as the heart of her “infinite variety,” with which, Enobarbus famously says, “she makes hungry / Where most she satisfies.” Like the goddess of love, to whom the play compares her, Cleopatra sparks desire that overpowers even the attraction of political power.

A more pressing question might be, who is Antony, to capture Cleopatra’s imagination? Other Romans describe him as a fading mythical figure, reduced by love “into a strumpet’s fool.” Even Cleopatra sometimes questions his greatness: “Though he be painted one way like a Gorgon, / The other way’s a Mars.” Yet Antony’s passionate extremity promises a kind of transcendence. “For his bounty, / There was no winter in’t,” Cleopatra tells Dolabella; “an autumn ’twas / That grew the more by reaping.” In response to gentle skepticism, she insists that he is “past the size of dreaming”: paradoxically, “nature wants stuff / To vie strange forms with fancy; yet, to imagine / An Antony, were nature’s piece ’gainst fancy.” In this tousle between nature and fantasy, Cleopatra’s vision somehow outdoes both.

Shakespeare identifies Cleopatra’s distinctiveness with her Egyptian setting: although she was descended from the Greek Ptolemy family, the play presents her as “tawny,” “black,” and a “gypsy.” Yet while the play’s envious Romans attack her in racist, Orientalizing, and misogynist terms, Shakespeare follows Plutarch’s ambivalent awe towards her lightning-like imagination, which sparks the play’s theatrical electricity. As a powerful female monarch, she also recalls Elizabeth I, the beloved recently dead queen who expanded England’s own imperial ambitions. Antony and Cleopatra ends with devastation, but still offers a kind of triumph. Its leading lady’s reign over an empire of love, and the theatrical imagination, can ultimately only be conquered by herself.


William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1564, and spent several decades honing his extraordinary literary talents in London’s theater community before his death in 1616. He wrote Antony and Cleopatra around 1606-7, as part of a surge of tragedies including King Lear, Macbeth, and Timon of Athens following shortly after the 1603 death of Elizabeth I and several years of especially violent plague bouts. Then as now, everyone working in the theater industry was jolted by the pandemic’s economic, social, and emotional consequences, and Shakespeare would have been no exception. His son had died of plague in 1596, and his company members, whose families lived with them in London, had lost children more recently. Cleopatra’s agonized elegy for Antony – “The crown o’ the earth doth melt… young boys and girls / Are level now with men; the odds is gone, / And there is nothing left remarkable / Beneath the visiting moon” – imagines a post-apocalyptic landscape, implicitly conjuring the strange new world of post-plague, post-Elizabeth London life.

- Tanya Pollard | Professor of English, Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, CUNY

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