Robert Cuccioli and Teresa Avia Lim photos by
By Ron Cohen
classic get a classy revival
comedy embedded in Caesar and Cleopatra, George Bernard Shaw’s
fictionalized treatise on a slice of the tangled history between Rome and
Egypt, takes front and center in this bright revival by Gingold Theatrical
to 1899, the play details how the aging but hardly aged Roman leader, the wise
and humanistic Julius Caesar (here played with a great mix of panache and
gravitas by Robert Cuccioli), teaches and molds the teenage Cleopatra (a
winsome and winning Teresa Avia Lim) into taking her place as the regal queen
of Egypt. He coaches her how to hold herself, address her subjects and her
enemies, contain her wilder impulses and most importantly, how to believe in
Yes, in its
brilliant male teacher-unique female student nexus, it may remind you of Shaw’s Pygmalion, much better known in large part due to its musical adaptation
into My Fair Lady.
Cleopatra, however, has
its own distinctive flavor, weaving historical detail, a touch of epic
adventure and lots of trenchant moralizing into its rich tapestry. It’s a play
in which Caesar makes such ultra-pertinent observations as: “There’s the
eternal war between those who are in the world for what they can get out of it
and those who are in the world to make it a better place for everybody to live
And it all
moves briskly through a swift two hours or so (including intermission) in this
tight and generally tidy adaptation by director David Staller. Staller is
artistic director of Gingold Theatrical, a 14-year-old company, dedicated to
presenting readings, discussions and productions of the works of Shaw and his
contemporaries, and Staller’s affection for and intimacy with the canon is a
tangible asset of this production.
Some of the
descriptions of political intrigue and military strategizing do become a bit of
jumble, but they‘re depicted with such enthralling energy by the talented cast
of seven, they may well convince you that you know what’s going on.
effervescence that makes this production particularly bubble, though, is the
interplay between its two titular characters. It’s not a May-September affair,
to be sure, but it’s not exactly asexual either. There is a definite chemistry
between these two, the witty and woman-loving Caesar and the impetuous
Cleopatra, who feels no compunction about wildly embracing Caesar when he says
something that delights her. Deeper desire almost boils over in the long kiss
that Caesar bestows on Cleopatra’s forehead at their final parting. And it’s
all wonderfully played out in the performances of Cuccioli and Lim.
There is, of
course, a third party – unseen but definitely there – turning this situation
into a triangle as well. That’s Marc Antony, the handsome warrior whose image
remains indelibly and erotically fixed in Cleopatra’s memory. He came to Egypt
once when Cleopatra was still younger and his return now is promised by Caesar.
Jonathan Hadley, Robert
Cuccioli, Teresa Avia Lim, Rajesh Bose, and Jeff Applegate
various other characters fill out the proceedings admirably.
Cleopatra’s dedicated nursemaid, is given a vivacious embodiment by Brenda
Braxton. And in this version, she also serves as the play’s narrator, smartly
setting the story’s shifting locales.
close military aides, the rugged Rufio and the very proper Englishman
Britannus, are brought vividly to life by Jeff Applegate and Jonathan Hadley,
while Dan Domingues adds more than a touch of exuberance as Appolodorus, the
dashing carpet merchant from Sicily.
handling much of the plot’s political chicanery is Ponthius, the shrewd caretaker
of Ptolemy, Cleopatra’s despised younger brother. Not only must she share the
throne with Ptolemy, he’s also her husband. As Ponthius explains, “the kings and
queens of Egypt may not marry except with their own royal blood.”
delivers a persuasive rendering as Ponthius, and in one of director Staller’s more
meta-theatrical touches, Bose manipulates the ventriloquist dummy who portrays
Ptolemy. Believe it or not, it’s a conceit that works.
staging also makes effective use of the fairly limited space provided by the
theater’s stage, dominated in Brian Prather’s set design by a large wooden
scaffold-like structure, giving the actors a multitude of stairways to climb
along with exits and entrances. Actors also on occasion come on stage or leave
through the audience.
A touch of
glamour is provided the silky white fabric draping the rear of the set. it’s a
color motif also dominating Tracy Christensen’s costumes, which have a basic
timeless look, almost resembling smart resort clothes, but with the addition of
a few pieces, such as a cape or crown, take on a more specific feel.
As the play
reaches its conclusion, Cleopatra may not yet have become the imperious
temptress of legend, but you’ll feel that she’s well on her way to becoming
her. At the same time, you should be sure that the production has well
validated Shaw’s dramatic genius, both to entertain and instruct.
410 West 42nd Street