By John Thomason
By Benjy Caplan
By Artburst Miami
By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Daniel Reskin
The elasticity of William Shakespeare's words — the way they can be stretched to anywhere, anytime, and still resonate universal truths — will be put to the test this Friday by GableStage and wunderkind Tarell Alvin McCraney.
A year after McCraney and the area's premier theater company put together a radical truncation of Hamlet, converting the classic into a 90-minute potboiler, they will transplant Shakespeare's divisive tragedy Antony and Cleopatra from its original setting of the Sicilian Revolt circa 44 B.C. to the Haitian Revolution of the 18th Century.
Imperial politics will play out in a stripped-down version of Saint-Domingue in this landmark production, which has been years in the making.
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GableStage is producing the work in collaboration with New York's Public Theater and London's Royal Shakespeare Company, marking a first for a Miami theater. Also staged in England, New York, and Miami-Dade schools, it was funded in part by a successful $55,000 Kickstarter campaign and will include an international cast of expert Shakespearean actors. It stars Joaquina Kalukango, a Juilliard graduate and Broadway veteran, as Cleopatra, and Jonathan Cake, a Brit who has done everything from the Royal Shakespeare Company to Desperate Housewives, as Mark Antony.
McCraney described it this way: "Taking this equal parts tragedy, equal parts history, and setting it in the budding racial politics of the New World, a history ripe with pirating and battles over loyalty, we heighten the forbidden and passionate love affair between the conqueror, Antony, and colonized, Cleopatra."
McCraney is a MacArthur Genius grant winner who grew up in a Liberty City that had been virtually leveled by riots in 1980. His mother had substance-abuse problems and was HIV-positive. As a gay black man, he had to fight more than most to reach the top, but after graduating from New World School of the Arts, he headed for DePaul University and then Yale. In 2008, McCraney was named International Playwright in Residence at the Royal Shakespeare Company, and two years later, he joined the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago.
GableStage's home base isn't large enough to accommodate the hoopla surrounding this one. Instead, performances will take place at the Colony Theatre in South Beach.