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Off-Broadway Review: Gingold Theatrical Group's New Production of “Bernard Shaw’s Caesar & Cleopatra” in Theatre 1 at Theatre Row (Through Saturday October 12, 2019)

Off-Broadway Review: Gingold Theatrical Group's New Production of “Bernard Shaw’s Caesar & Cleopatra” in Theatre 1 at Theatre Row (Through Saturday October 12, 2019)
Directed by David Staller
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Bernard Shaw’s Caesar & Cleopatra,” currently playing in Theatre 1 at Theatre Row, injects a palpable dose of modernity into the history of the relationship between Caesar’s Rome and Cleopatra’s Egypt. The 1898 play parses the political landscape in Shaw’s fictionalized account of the relationship between the royal pair and Cleopatra’s desire to assume complete control of the throne from her “puppet king” and husband Ptolemy. Narrated by Cleopatra’s (an energetic and thoughtful Teresa Alva Lim) chief nurse Ftatateeta (a powerful and devious Brenda Braxton), the account the first meeting between Caesar (an enigmatic and stolid Robert Cuccioli) and Cleopatra, the Roman invasion of Egypt, Caesar’s mission to embolden Cleopatra in her reign (“creating herself”), the installation of Rufio (a devoted and tenacious Jeff Applegate) as Governor in Egypt, Caesar’s departure from Egypt, and his promise to Cleopatra to send “a beautiful present from Rome” (Mark Antony).

David Staller’s direction is both evenhanded and refreshing, successfully bring this adaptation to an authentic and innovative staging of this Shaw classic that has not been produced in New York in over forty years. Under Mr. Staller’s direction, the members of the ensemble cast bring believable performances that honor Shaw’s groundbreaking defense of the rights of women and the need for gender equality. Mr. Cuccioli portrays a kinder, gentler Caesar who understands the dynamics of power and yearns to share his insight with Cleopatra. Ms. Lim counterpoints her antagonist’s performance with a Cleopatra who knows what she wants and is delighted to welcome Caesar’s attention and tutelage.

Caesar’s tutelage is not the instruction of a misogynist: Caesar wants his sixteen-year-old prodigy to divorce herself from her childishness and naivete and learn the art and science of statecraft needed to be the true Queen of Egypt. Shaw’s “spin” on this relationship is contemporary and vindicating. Evidence of Cleopatra’s transformation into that understanding of statecraft comes at the play’s end when she secures Caesar’s promise that Rufio will govern Caesar’s way – “Without punishment. Without revenge. Without judgment.”

Ftatateeta here is not savage enough nor does she bully Cleopatra sufficiently to warrant her royal ward’s desire to separate and individuate from her oppressive “parenting.” It is difficult for this character to be both a narrator and a true player in the historical action; however, Ms. Braxton delivers a convincing performance of this reimagined chief nurse and captive in time. The remainder of the cast – Jonathan Hadley, Rajesh Bose, and Dan Domingues – also deliver admirable and believable performances of their characters.

Brian Prather’s scenic design, Tracy Christensen’s costume design, Jamie Roderick’s lighting design, and Frederick Kennedy’s sound design all contribute to the strength of this production and its remarkable contribution to the Shaw canon.

CAESAR & CLEOPATRA

The cast of “Bernard Shaw’s Caesar & Cleopatra” features Jeff Applegate, Rajesh Bose, Brenda Braxton, Robert Cuccioli, Dan Domingues, Jonathan Hadley, and Teresa Avia Lim.

The creative team includes Brian Prather (scenic design), Tracy Christensen (costume design), Jamie Roderick (lighting design), and Frederick Kennedy (sound design). April Ann Kline serves as production stage manager.

“Caesar & Cleopatra” runs in Theatre 1 at Theatre Row (410 West 42nd Street between 9th and Dyer Avenues) through Saturday October 12, 2019 on the following performance schedule: Tuesday through Thursday evenings at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday evenings at 8:00 p.m., and matinees Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Tickets for “Caesar & Cleopatra” are $69.00 and can be purchased online at www.Telecharge.com, by phone at 212-239-6200, or in person at the Theatre Row Box Office. Running time is 2 hours 30 minutes, including intermission.

Photo: Teresa Avia Lim and Robert Cuccioli in “Caesar & Cleopatra.” Credit: Carol Rosegg.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, October 3, 2019