STONINGTON, Maine — Though the name “Cleopatra” conjures up images of golden headdresses, snakes, Elizabeth Taylor and heavy-duty eye makeup, the history of the famed Egyptian queen plays a very real part in the development of the western world. So much so that 400 years ago, Shakespeare wrote “Antony and Cleopatra” about the woman, and her forbidden love for Roman general Marc Antony.
Opera House Arts’ annual production of a Shakespeare play will be the Bard’s romantic, passionate work, rarely performed in regional theater and, this year, staged at OHA’s beautiful new venue, the fully-renovated Burnt Cove Church in Stonington, July 12-15 and 19-22. This year’s play, directed by Craig Baldwin, is a site-specific production that’s mysterious, sexy and full of Egyptian iconography — and yes, it features one small, very sweet ball python named Phiggs, on loan from the Maine Herpetological Society.
“Cleopatra is a woman experiencing the transformative power of love. But it may cost her all her worldly wealth and power,” said Baldwin, who was last seen performing in OHA’s “Much Ado About Nothing” and “Elizabeth Rex.” “She is torn between her desire to do what is politically wise, what will save the country she rules, and her desire for Antony. As the political climate changes in the play, it becomes increasingly clear that she cannot have both.”
Cleopatra is played by Melody Bates, seen in a number of OHA productions ranging from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” to “Brilliant Traces,” while Antony is played by Michael Sharon; the cast is rounded out by both Equity and local actors including Peter Richards, Aryeh Lappin, Jeffrey Brink and recent Deer Isle-Stonington High School graduate Esther Adams.
“Melody has the ability to be youthful, kittenish, sexy and playful, then all at once summon Cleopatra’s strength, regality and dominating presence, and then switch back again in an instant,” said Baldwin. “Melody is strikingly beautiful and appears very iconic, like Cleopatra. There is a twist here though — this is a blonde bombshell Cleopatra.”
The Burnt Cove Church — in its first season as a venue for OHA — is an intimate and unique setting for a play such as “Antony and Cleopatra.” The ritual and pageantry of Ancient Egypt fits well into the small 1870s church.
“The show actually begins outside the church, so the chance to get a good look at this beautifully restored building will be built into the experience,” said Baldwin. “We have also used the vocabulary of church-going and church rituals in the show — from the way we have costumed the characters, to the music we have used and the way we have staged the physical action.”
Besides the uniquely appropriate setting for the show itself, the Church is in keeping with OHA’s attitude towards staging shows in general.
“It is also important to the mission of Opera House Arts that we put our original performances in the community, in venues where you would not ordinarily expect them, outside of the traditional proscenium theater,” said Linda Nelson, OHA executive director. “We feel very lucky to have gained use of the gorgeous Burnt Cove Church as an additional venue for our work.”
“Antony & Cleopatra” will be performed at 7 p.m. July 13-15 and July 19-22 at the Burnt Cove Church, with a special opening night performance and party starting at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, July 12, featuring Middle Eastern food and belly dancing. Tickets for all shows are $35, except for opening night, which is $60. Reservations are highly recommended, as the church only seats 100; for tickets, visit operahousearts.org.