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A CurtainUp Review
Caesar and Cleopatra
The play focuses on Julius Caesar's (Robert Cuccioli) travels to Egypt to bring an unruly populace in line. Caesar assumes he will have to contend with nationalist pride and violent resistance. Instead he finds a complicated political environment, dominated by young Ptolemy's guardian Pothinus (Rajesh Bose, who plays both characters—including a too much on-the-nose version of Ptolemy as puppet) and Cleopatra's (Teresa Avia Lim) nurse Ftatateeta (Brenda Braxton), the people split between them. Seeing something reminiscent of himself in the young Cleopatra, Caesar undertakes the instruction of the Egyptian queen in the finer points of rulership and does so while dangerous political forces swirl around them both.
Director David Staller lets this story play straight ahead to generally good effect, since you can go a long way with Shaw's wit and wisdom, if the actors can render it properly. And this cast is more than up to the task, with particularly good turns from Dan Domingues as “the Sicilian” Apollodorus and Braxton as Ftatateeta. But the highest marks go to the leads.
Shaw was fascinated by Caesar, and if his version is correct, it's easy to see why. Cuccioli plays up his wit, thoughtfulness, and compassion beautifully married with power. Even if Caesar at times seems more a charming British gentleman than an antique Roman emperor, it's hard not to sympathize with him. Teresa Avia Lim is particularly good as Cleopatra. Despite the costs in doing so, she transitions smoothly from an unsophisticated and immature princess to alluring and powerful queen.
Not everything is in sync here. I get the point of Brian Prather's set being intended to look like an Egyptian excavation site, but it feels unfinished and, in the confines of the narrow theater, oddly claustrophobic. The set is not really capable of sustaining the illusion of Sphinx / palace / lighthouse, and seems more to get in the way of the actors than suggest an environment for them. There are also some odd directorial choices that create some confusion— for example, the aforementioned Ptolemy puppet, which is bizarre and tonally inconsistent with the rest of the production.
Ultimately, I was left with the nagging feeling that more could be done here, that the Gingold Theatrical Group could have pushed the envelope a bit more. But as I said at the beginning, Shaw is always Shaw, and in a way his work always speaks for itself. Viewed through that lens, this Caesar and Cleopatra is a witty, engaging, and thought-provoking success.
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Caesar and Cleopatra
Playwright: George Bernard Shaw
Director: David Staller
Cast: Jeff Applegate (Rufio), Rajesh Bose (Pothinus, Ptolemy, Sentinel), Brenda Braxton (Ftatateeta), Robert Cuccioli (Caesar), Dan Domingues (Apollodorus), Jonathan Hadley (Britannus), Teresa Avia Lim (Cleopatra)
Scenic Designer: Brian Prather
Costume Designer: Tracy Christensen
Lighting Designer: Jamie Roderick
Sound Designer: Frederick Kennedy
Running time: Two hours (includes one ten minute intermission)
Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd St. (212) 947-8844
From 09/03/19 to 10/12/19; opening 09/24/19
Tues. – Thurs. @ 7:30 p.m., Fri. – Sat. @ 8 p.m., Sun. @ 3 p.m.
Reviewed by Dr. Gregory A. Wilson based on September 19th preview performance
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