GEEK GIRL Review: Energized Caesar and Cleopatra at Theatre Row!By Caroline Cao | September 30, 2019 | Entertainment
Resident Geek Girl Caroline Cao is back with another review!
The 1898 Caesar and Cleopatra was one of Bernard Shaw’s lesser-known works and written to counterpoint William Shakespeare‘s romanticized Antony and Cleopatra. Like in Shakespeare’s text, Shaw’s Cleopatra has an attraction to powerful Roman men, Caesar in this case (with Mark Antony being an unseen love interest), but she has more of a role as her love interest’s protege than a prospective lover.
At Theatre Row, Gingold Theatrical Group has assembled highly entertaining take by director David Staller. Cast chemistry fires on all cylinders. The intellectual regard they hold for each other feels true, even if the bulk of it is Caesar talking down to young Cleopatra, who calculates and proves her mettle on her own terms.
When Cleopatra (Teresa Avia Lim) first enters, she is an arrant childlike imp, scurrying around the white-streamed stage and the Egyptian scaffolding with vivacious physicality. She chats with a strange old man beneath an Egyptian statue and boasts about her impending queenhood much to the old man’s amusement.
Cleopatra will discover later that this is the conquerer Julius Caesar (Robert Cuccioli, with sage-over-swagger layers) who could help her take the Egyptian throne as his forces invade Egypt in the midst of its civil war. Thrilled that Caesar could be a ticket to her throne, she bursts with fervor and guile but with much to learn.
Everyone delivers battle strategy from left and right, stirring up momentum on a humble stage. Jeff Applegate as the trusted Rufio and Jonathan Hadley as the likable secretary Britannus have a militant and chummy rapport with Cuccioli. Brenda Braxton is a standout delight as the tall and no-nonsense Ftatateeta, a nursemaid both compliant and stern with her queenly charge.
Dan Dominques also steals the scene with the running gag of “Apollodorus… the Sicilian.” There’s an ingenious touch to have Cleopatra’s throne rival (and blood brother and betrothed, according to old Egyptian customs), not as flesh, but a muppet-like puppet operated by Pothinus (a wonderfully sniveling Rajesh Bose).
Does director David Staller’s modernization bypass the age of Shaw’s text? Not always, a similar quibble I had with the last likable Broadway revival of Shaw’s Saint Joan. While the court intrigues compel, there is little that feels viscerally applicable to our modern times—though someone with a different perspective will be free to refute my notion.
It also leaves some of Caesar’s pompous war actions unchallenged, such as a scene where Pothinus pitifully mourns all the books consumed by the devastation of the fires and Caesar dismissing those concerns. Regardless, everything else is stellar.
photo credit: Gingold Theatrical Group