BWW Interview: Exclusive Scoop on The Public Theater's ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA with Charise Castro Smith

The Royal Shakespeare Company, Miami's Gablestage, and The Public Theater recently teamed up for a new production of Shakespeare's ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA. This unique company has been cast in both the U.S. and the U.K., and comprises five actors from each country to make up the cast of Shakespeare's historical play of love and politics. Director Tarell Alvin McCraney has decided to put a new spin on this classic play, and he has set it in the late 1700s against the backdrop of Saint-Domingue, on the eve of the Haitian Revolution against the French, bringing to light vivid historical parallels with the story of Antony and Cleopatra. This exciting new production has already had two successful runs in Stratford-upon-Avon and Miami, and will begin its final run in New York at The Public Theater on February 18.

BroadwayWorld recently had the opportunity to chat with Charise Castro Smith, who plays Octavia and Iras in this production, about this international collaboration, director Tarell Alvin McCraney, and more. Check out the full interview below!

You play Octavia and Iras. What can you tell me about your characters?

It's really cool what Tarell has done with this play. Usually Antony and Cleopatra has like forty different characters in it, and he has sort of trimmed the play down and edited it so that there are just ten actors playing all the roles. Octavius Caesar, Marc Antony, Cleopatra, and Enobarbus just play themselves, but the rest of us play all kinds of different characters. I lucked out because I get to be in both the Roman, and, in this production, French world as Octavia and I get to be in the Egyptian/Haitian world as Iras. It's a really cool pairing.

So how do your characters fit into the story?

Octavia is the sister of Octavius Caesar and she is married off in a political bid for peace to Marc Antony and - spoiler alert! - it does not work out! And as for Iras - Cleopatra has two women, like her right-hand women. Charmian is sort of her first lady and Iras is like her second in command. I get to do both of them and that's really cool.

Your director, Tarell Alvin McCraney, changed the setting of the play to the 1600's Haitian Revolution. How does that change or add to the story?

I think one of the reasons that he did it was because, and I would never have known this before I started working on the play, but the relationship between Rome and Egypt was a colonial one. Egypt was essentially a colony of Rome, and in the same way that Haiti was a colony of France. In the play, Marc Antony and Egypt decide to fight Rome and Octavius Caesar in the same way that Haiti revolted against France. There are parallels between the two stories and I think people more readily have in their minds the history of Haiti becoming an independent country then they do about Egypt as a colony of Rome. I think that's one of the reasons that he did it, and I think it was really cool, especially doing the play in Miami because there is such a huge Haitian community there. I think people there were really able to cash in on the play in a way that was new and really alive and present.

Besides the change in setting, how else is this production of Antony and Cleopatra different from others before it?

There are a couple different things that I think helped his idea along. One of them was the movement. We were working with choreographer Gelan Lambert and he has really done a good job I think of separating these roles of France and Haiti through dance and the way people move in those worlds. Our composer, Michael Thurber, as well. I think the music instantly lets you know where you are. The music in France is very metered and courtly and the music in Haiti, some of it is traditional Haitian music and some of it is music that he composed after listening to a lot of Haitian music. The costumes too, I think, really tell the story because the Romans are in these very Napoleonic, French uniforms with the epaulets and stuff and the Haitians are in cotton and light fabric. There is sort of a colonial feeling to those worlds. So the design and the music and the movement are all things that he brought in I think to support the new concept.

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