Antony and Cleopatra, Shakespeare Machine, at the Performance Loft. There’s nothing wrong with a stripped-down production of Shakespeare using a small cast–provided the actors are up to the challenge of multiple roles. That’s a problem in Jason Cornwell’s staging of Antony and Cleopatra. The other is his relentless rapid-fire pacing. That and his six actors’ limited vocal skills result in flat renditions of the play’s loveliest poetic passages. It’s also sometimes hard to follow the story since so much of the action involves offstage characters: if we miss a name, we miss a plot development.

As the title characters, David Skvarla and Brandi Harrison never convey the steamy attraction between the Roman soldier and the Egyptian queen. Harrison in particular is curiously contained when she should be operatic, as in the scene when she threatens the life of a messenger for bringing tidings of Antony’s marriage to Octavia. Though Antony gets top billing, it’s Cleopatra who runs the show–and Harrison just doesn’t have the regal fire for that.

Cornwell wisely opts to seat the cast on the periphery of the playing area, underscoring how addicted these lovers are to playing out their passions in public. But most of the script’s nuances and subtext are sacrificed: apparently Cornwell takes the “machine” part of the company’s moniker far too literally.