Madison Shakespeare Co. serves up a sloshed ‘Anthony and Cleopatra’

Tragic love story gets a shot of crazy comedy
Madison Shakespeare Co. serves up a sloshed ‘Anthony and Cleopatra’
Photo by Benjamin Barlow
Marie Freese and Jason Compton star as the doomed lovers in Madison Shakespeare Company’s “Sloshed Shakespeare: Antony and Cleopatra.”

If music be the food of love, play on, William Shakespeare told us in “Twelfth Night.” So if watching increasingly drunk actors stumble their way through Shakespeare appeals to the masses, order a second round and drink up.

And appeal it does, if Madison’s reaction to Madison Shakespeare Company‘s “Sloshed Shakespeare: MacBeth” last summer is any indication. Crowds flocked to see a subset of the actors who’d performed in MSC’s 2016 full production of the play open the show with a shot and just get crazier (and more inebriated) from there.

This summer, MSC’s training its booze-blurred sights on “Antony and Cleopatra,” which also has the advantage of being a show MSC’s staged before (way back in 2013). It also helps that the story is pretty straightforward — you know, in case the audience decides to outpace the actors in rounds consumed.

“With ‘Antony and Cleopatra,’ it’s pretty clear to everyone who’s being driven to drink by whom,” quips MSC’s Jason Compton, who’ll be starring as the headstrong and lovestruck Roman general. “It’s obviously also clear who’s important to whom and why.”

MSC’s using the script from their 2013 production of the play, minus a few key pieces.

“The main thing that’s missing is the role I played in that show,” says Compton. “The whole subplot with Pompey the Pirate King is on the cutting room floor.”

The key role of stage manager is being played again by Tanis Steed, who’ll be onstage the entire show to make sure everything (and everyone) stays upright and on track, even if lines are getting slurred and dropped or death scenes are going on just a bit too long. She also has the dubious distinction of being responsible for providing the show’s various sound effects.

“I have to make lots of bass groove porno sounds,” Steed admits. “Mostly, I have to do trumpeting noises every time an actor comes onstage.”

Given that several members of the six-person cast are playing multiple roles — with multiple costume changes — Steed will have to get creative with her range of trumpet blares. Denzel Taylor, for instance, is playing both Agrippa (Antony’s right-hand man) and Charmian (Cleopatra’s right-hand soothsayer). But the cast also features newcomers, including local comedian Nina Davis. Steed says having a comic eye is a real advantage.

“In a setting like this, it’s hard to come to the play in all seriousness. Trying to keep a straight face when everything’s flying off the handle can be a challenge.”

Both Steed and Compton also note that while “Antony and Cleopatra” lives in the “tragedy” wing of Shakespeare’s library, it’s also packed with gut-busting zingers worthy of a network comedy.

“The ‘I love you, I hate you, I love you’ scenes always tend to be really funny,” says Compton.

And that’s before you drown them in whiskey and Capital Amber.

Like last year, MSC will slosh its Shakespeare four times — once at Capital Brewery (July 28), twice at the Brink Lounge (August 3 and 17) and once at the High Noon Saloon (August 8). To score tickets, click here.

Aaron R. Conklin writes his award-winning coverage of the Madison-area theater scene for madisonmagazine.com.