Muhlenberg Weekly Arts Review Series: “Sanctorum”

An electro-folk operetta based on a retelling of "Antony and Cleopatra"

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Photo by Jenny Delorimier, REM Collective | "Sanctorum" opening night

The weekend of Sept. 17 an operetta entitled “Sanctorum” premiered. It was written and directed by Danny Milkis ‘23. The piece, produced by REM Collective, focuses on the historical drama of Cleopatra, Mark Antony and Julius Caesar. 

“Sanctorum” is a masterful, rich operetta with an emotive cast and even more passionate melodies that are reminiscent of more modern opera pieces today (like “Natasha Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812.”) 

Santorum focuses on the beginning affair between Cleopatra and Mark Antony, and the political background behind it. The political tension between all of the characters is shown through the sinister and evocative music, building up until the final number of Act I. 

The show first opens with the cast of characters in simple, black cloaks. They perform the opening number with a haunting range of melodies. Although the scene is quite simplistic, it is the characters and the music that make the show. 

Cleopatra, played by Celeste Samson ‘22, was depicted as fierce and independent. Their solo song, “Andromeda,” examines the thought that only they can save themself. The song premiered as a sneak peek for the second act. Samson’s soft-spoken, but melodic voice works well for such a graceful and regal character. 

Samson plays well with their lover, Mark Antony, played by Lorenzo Antigua ‘24, whose loud tenor sweeps the stage. Antigua successfully captures the range of emotions his character plays. 

Zach Rabishaw’s ‘22 Augustus commanded the stage with a beautiful, evocative voice. As Rabishaw sang, he caught the audience with an icy, powerful stare as the character should. His counterpart, Lepidus (played by Andrew Gordon ‘23) was played with a particular charm. 

As Lepidus appeared in one scene, the entire audience cheered for him. His sister, Octavia, played by visiting artist Jenny Delorimier, had the same level of charisma. Delorimier’s sweet soprano voice delicately enraptured the audience with her grace and poise. 

Enobarbus, played by Elaina Ragusa ‘23, also has great chemistry with the rest of the ensemble. Ragusa’s voice and acting makes her character come to life, particularly as she played off of Lepidus’s charm. 

The operetta took place in Trexler Amphitheater, an intimate setting for such a rich and personal piece. The 10 p.m. performance offered a romantic atmosphere, as the haunting melodies clashed with the night-time appeal. 

One character sings, “Will you love me when I’m gone?” The rest of the ensemble echoes this in a powerful refrain. 

“I thought it was very inventive how the ensemble was also the leads and a cloak was used to identify if they were villagers or not villagers.”

-Justin Walker ’25

Although it was hard to hear some of the actors at times, the emotion was still conveyed. It was also conveyed through the heavy instrumentals (composed and recorded by Will Howitt ‘23 and Milkis), in which the tension of the plot was aided by the orchestrations. 

Despite the simplistic nature of the piece, “Sanctorum” shows what happens when a group of young artists come together with creativity and ambition. From the process of writing and workshopping, to actually performing the piece with vocal and instrumental arrangements, this complex piece of art succeeds from such a collaborative effort. 

“I thought it was very inventive how the ensemble was also the leads and a cloak was used to identify if they were villagers or not villagers,” said audience member Justin Walker ‘25.

Sanctorum is defined as the “Holiest of Holies,” and in the sense of theatre, it is definitely a holy, ethereal piece.

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