PRINCETON, NJ –The drums roar, the scenes snap to attention in this startling, emotion filled production of Antony and Cleopatra at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton.

Artistic Director Emily Mann directs a sterling cast in this timeless William Shakespeare play. Nicole Ari Parker is the fiery Cleopatra, imperial as the queen and then begging Antony for understanding as she prepares to defend him against Octavius Caesar. Tobias Segal is the clever, manipulative Caesar.

The clash of personalities is heightened when the strong, dynamic Antony, played by Esau Pritchett, enters the scene. Pritchett towers above most of the other actors, making him even more plausible as a force to be reckoned with.

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Following his wife Fulvia’s death, he marries Octavia, Caesar’s sister,  much to Cleopatra’s dismay. It’s a political move on his part, but Cleopatra is somewhat comforted to learn that she is mousey and unattractive. Of course, Octavia, as played by Mairen Lee, is a lovely blonde. Still, Antony eventually leaves her to return to his true love, Cleopatra.

Enobarbus is played with gusto by Michael Siberry, who often comments on the action. Zanab Job is the lovely Charmian, Cleopatra’s maid.

Battles ensue, pitting Caesar against Cleopatra. The ending, of course is tragic, as the lovers receive mixed signals. Cleopatra feigns death and Antony stabs himself in despair. She then kills herself with the bite of an asp as her handmaidens dress her in robe and crown. They, too, kill themselves.

Mark Katsaounis, percussionist, provides the dramatic instrumental interludes.  Set design by Daniel Ostling consists of copper toned panels, with dramatic lighting by Edward Pierce and elegant costumes by Paul Tazewell. Cleopatra’s wing-like robe is a beauty to behold and the women’s diaphanous gowns reflect the ancient Egyptian period.  Original music and sound design by Mark Bennett intersperses effectively with the drums, creating a relentless, searing pulse.

Performances of Antony and Cleopatra continue at the McCarter Theatre in Princeton through Oct. 5. For tickets, call (609) 258-2787 or visit  mccarter.org.