The Gingold Theatrical Groups new adaptation of George Bernard Shaw’s 1898 Caesar & Cleopatra, begins as if in a dream. Narrated by Cleopatra’s nurse Ftatateeta (Brenda Braxton), we are lead on a journey through the book of the dead to the past. Ftatateeta is commanding, the ultimate feminist who rules the Queen. She has taken over from the original narrator RA, which tells you the flow of the political climate.
As Ceaser (Robert Cuccioli), enters he meets a 16 year old teenage Cleopatra (Teresa Avia Lim), who is silly, afraid and has a cutthroat personality at not caring about anyone but herself. As Ceaser guides her
The show has been scaled down to omit the supporting and minor characters. Who is left is Rufio (Jeff Applegate) Caesar’s ruthless commander; Brittanus (Jonathan Hadley) his moralistic British secretary; Apollodorus (Dan Domingues) a tradesman and Pothinus (Rajesh Bose), the power and guardian of Ptolemy, Cleopatra’s ten year-old brother and husband. Ptolemy is as ironically is a puppet man handled by Ptolemy.
Civil war has torn Egypt in two as Cleopatra and her younger brother vie for the throne. Caesar does his best to help the young queen grow into a great ruler, who favors wisdom, honor, and clemency as a means of governance. As the palace at Alexandria is besieged, Caesar tries valiantly to keep the country together, his biggest challenge however is the headstrong Cleopatra. In the end power, politics, vengeance win out and Cleopatera is left to fend on her own.
Robert Cuccioli is a kind and thoughtful Caesar, doting on his young charge. In Cuccioli masterful handling, the affair with of a powerful man in his 50’s and a teen is less creepy. It is Cleopatra who seems more in pursuit. Cuccioli allows us to see Caesar as a man of compassion, with a work and an ethical compass. His chemistry with Teresa Avia Lim is charming. Ms Lim has the most to grow in this piece and she does. Part of her transformation is enhanced by the costume design by Tracy Christensen. As she matures under Caesar’s guidance we see her go from little white cat to a clawing, scheming black cat with claws and barely a soul. Brenda Braxton commands the stage looking regal. Don’t discount the other three actors, especially Jonathan Hadley. Jeff Applegate gives us the over bearing masculinity and Rajesh Bose the comedic touch.
David Staller, has directed this piece and though he has not been given credit has adapted the piece. He has taken a lot of liberties with the script, stating use of the original production notes, manuscript, drafts, and letters written by Shaw.
Brian Prather’s excavation set dropped with sheets and posters lining the theatre is simple but effective. The lighting by Jamie Roderick is rather beautiful depicting sky in both the brightness of the day and the twilight of night. Frederick Kennedy’s sound, gives us what the set does not.
The show had me happily going back to revisit the film version with Vivian Leigh and Claude Reins. I found The Gingold Theatre Group’s Caesar & Cleopatra well done, timely and one for this time frame.
Caesar & Cleopatra: The Gingold Theatre Group at The Lion Theatre, 410 West 42nd St until October 12th