ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA, JULIUS CAESAR (Alley Theater)
Houston's Alley Theater scores a coup with its presentation of these two Shakespeare works. Staged in collaboration with the London-based Moving Theater, a company founded in 1994 by Vanessa Redgrave and her brother, Corin, this double production is making its American debut. Corin directs and stars in the title role of ''Julius Caesar,'' while Vanessa directs and stars in the rarely performed ''Antony and Cleopatra''; this is also the first time she has performed Shakespeare on an American stage.
Both productions employ a mix of performers and craftspeople from both companies and were rehearsed in Houston. (Another joint venture planned for next year will originate in London.) The shows utilize sets and costumes that recall Elizabethan England, and are aggressively nontraditional in their casting.
Of the two shows, ''Antony and Cleopatra'' has the edge because of its relative freshness and Vanessa Redgrave's beautiful performance as the Egyptian queen. The actress, who also appears in the small role of Portia in ''Caesar,'' downplays the character's regality and accentuates her girlishness. The scene in which she learns that her beloved has taken a wife in Rome is played with broad comic strokes, making it a highlight.
This problematic play has many shifts in tone, which director Redgrave handles skillfully. If Antony's death scene is a bit more comic than it needs to be, Cleopatra's demise is depicted in a hauntingly ritualistic fashion. David Harewood, playing Antony with a Cockney accent, offers a robust interpretation.
Corin Redgrave is a commanding Caesar, cannily suggesting the character's tyranny while also rendering him a sympathetic character. But the play, more of an ensemble piece, suffers from the unevenness of its performers; Howard Saddler (Caius Cassius) and Jeffrey Bean (Casca) are standouts, but others offer rougher characterizations.
These productions, an excellent example of the benefits of cooperation between Actors' Equity and British Equity, run through Feb. 11.