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by Duncan Pflaster
The mission of Resonance Ensemble is to present classic plays in conjunction with modern plays inspired by them. This season they change things up a bit, by presenting George Bernard Shaw's classic Caesar and Cleopatra (adapted by Eric Overmyer) along with the premiere of Christopher Boal's 23 Knives; both plays are inspired by Shakespeare's works.
Caesar and Cleopatra is Shaw's imagining of the events before Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra. Cleopatra (Wrenn Schmidt) is a petulant girl of sixteen as the story begins, and the plot has to do with Caesar (Chris Ceraso) teaching her how to be the Queen and formidable woman she will need to become in order to lead her people. Shaw's play is full of philosophy about what it means to be a monarch, but equally rife with amusing and witty moments. A particular running gag- the pronunciation of the name of Cleopatra's formidable nurse Ftatateeta (Geraldine Librandi)- kept the audience laughing throughout. Overmyer's adaptation is not lean- very little is missed but references that might be lost on modern audiences.
The leads are both wonderful, and have great chemistry together- Ceraso is totally believable as Caesar, giving him a world-weary lightness appropriate for a conqueror who's conquered everything. Schmidt is hypnotic, beginning as a frightened girl and gradually transforming into a petulant and vengeful Queen. The rest of the very large cast all hold their own as a dizzying array of soldiers, slaves, priests, artists, musicians and women.
Kent Paul's direction is never sloppy, investing each moment with the correct sense of the style of the piece.
The set by Sarah B. Brown is lovely (also used, with some changes, in 23 Knives). There's some impressive fight direction by Alberto Bonilla (who also appears in the play). Michelle Eden Humphrey's costumes are appropriate for the time and characters, (though someone should have kept a keener eye on men who aren't used to wearing skirts- a slave's boxer briefs were prominent at one point on the night I attended, drawing giggles from the audience). Cleopatra's costumes are especially fine and give a real sense of the opulence she's been raised to.
It's an excellent production of a rarely-seen work. Recommended.
Caesar and Cleopatra
Resonance Ensemble (in Rep with 23 Knives)
through February 7 at Theatre Row's Clurman Theatre. Performances schedule: Tuesday at 7PM; Wednesday - Friday at 8PM; Saturday at 2PM & 8PM; Sunday at 2PM & 7PM (see website for specific shows).
Photo Credit: Jon Kandel
- Chris Cesaro as Caesar and Wrenn Schmidt as Cleopatra
- Ensemble cast of Caesar and Cleopatra