NEW YORK—In support of its mission to present plays inspired by the ethos of noted Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, Gingold Theatrical Group is now presenting a new adaptation of Shaw’s “Caesar and Cleopatra.”
Written by director David Staller (also artistic director of the company), his version is markedly different from the original, but according to program notes, relies on original production notes, manuscript, drafts, and letters written by Shaw, to ensure the authenticity of this adaptation.
One startling change is putting the play in the hands of a narrator. Furthermore, this narrator is a woman, and she is none other than Ftatateeta (Brenda Braxton), the nurse to Cleopatra. Usually portrayed by an older character actress, Ms. Braxton is young, slender, and svelte and wears her white and gold flowing robes (courtesy costume designer Tracy Christensen) most fetchingly. She also has a strong stage presence.
As for the general plot, it is similar to the original. Caesar (an imposing Robert Cuccioli) runs into Cleopatra (winsome Teresa Avia Lim) near Egypt’s sphinx. Naive and immature, the young girl considers the noted ruler to be an unimportant old man. She is feisty and a bit rude.
As for Caesar, when he is finally convinced that she is who she says she is, namely, the queen of Egypt, he decides to train and groom her to become a sophisticated, mature, and wily ruler.
Caesar is shown to be wise and basically humane. He urges his young charge to be likewise, to be compassionate. For example, he feels she should be more considerate of her young husband, who is also her brother—Ptolemy XIII, here portrayed as a puppet—a clever ploy by playwright Staller.
There are political machinations, which to my mind did not hold interest as much as did the performances of the three principals mentioned above. Cuccioli, Braxton, and Lim constitute a strong trio.
The relationship of the two leading characters was represented more as mentor to student, rather than as lovers. It was tantalizing when Caesar promised Cleopatra that he would send her a young, attractive man, by the name of Marc Antony.
As for production values, granted there were budgetary constraints, but apart from the major players, costumes were a bit under par, even by Off-Broadway standards.
Congratulations are in order, however, for those several stalwart actors who had to deal, often with haste, with the many stairs supplied by set designer Brian Prather, whose work arguably represented a kind of multi-level archeological structure. (The play is set at the end of the XXXIII Dynasty in Egypt.)
Others in the cast are Jeff Applegate, Jonathan Hadley, Rajesh Bose, and Dan Domingues.
Here’s a soupcon of ancient Greece, side by side against modernity, and three strong performances.
‘Caesar and Cleopatra’
Theatre Row Theatre
410 W. 42nd St.
Running Time: 2 hours (one intermission)
Closes: Oct. 12
Diana Barth writes for several theater publications, including “New Millennium.” She may be contacted at email@example.com