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An Interpretation Of William Shakespeare’s 'Antony and Cleopatra,' Set In Pre-Revolution Colonial Haiti?

by Tambay A. Obenson
November 13, 2012 10:12 AM
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Last we wrote about award-winning African American playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney was in May, when we announced that he was teaming up with Barry Jenkins (Medicine For Melancholy) on what was described as a triptych feature about Liberty City that is being produced by Borscht Corp (who were also behind Barry's short film Chorophyl).

No word on where that project stands at this time, but, as I learned this morning, the seemingly always-busy McCraney is now set to write and direct a new play that got my attention, because of its content. 

Specifically, next theater season (2013/2014), South Florida’s GableStage, England’s Royal Shakespeare Company and New York’s Public Theater will team to debut McCraney’s new adaptation/interpretation of William Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra, BUT, with what we could call a twist: it'll be set in Haiti, in the 1790s, in colonial Saint-Domingue on the eve of what would become a successful Haitian uprising against French rule, led by one Toussaint L'Ouverture.

The estimated $2 million project was initially revealed yesterday, with a premiere set for November 2013 in Miami; afterward, it'll move to the Public Theater in NYC.

Further, it's been reported that the cast will comprise of American and British actors, with auditions scheduled to be held in Miami, New York and London.

As noted, McCraney will direct the play, which is being described as a bold new take on this difficult play.

No word yet on how exactly his interpretation will work Shakespeare's tragedy into pre-revolution Haiti, or vice-versa, but I'm definitely curious to find out.

In addition to working on a script for Barry Jenkins to direct, Tarell, a graduate of Yale School of Drama, fans will be familiar with Tarell's recent The Brother/Sister Plays - a breakthrough trilogy of new plays on modern-day coming-of-age stories of kinship, love, and heartache, set in the bayou of Louisiana and loosely draw on, broadly, Yoruba mythology.

The works have been produced in theaters across the country, including in my neck of the woods (NYC); and although I didn't get to attend, words like "gritty," "lyrical," "urban" and "mythic" have been used to describe the trilogy of works; I suspect the same will be said for this new work.

McCraney's name comes up often in my inbox, news feed, alerts, etc. Even though he works primarily in theater, and this is primarily a film blog, he's definitely a talent to keep an eye on, especially given how fluid movement between worlds has become these days - Hollywood coming to Broadway, Broadway going to Hollywood, mixing here and there.

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  • Theaterfanatic | November 14, 2012 12:46 AMReply

    For those in the Los Angeles area, there is currently a production of one of the brother/sister plays "In The Red and Brown Water" at The Fountain Theater. I have seen it and it's really incredible. here's the LA times review,0,127187.story

  • Adam Scott Thompson | November 13, 2012 10:49 PMReply

    This is what the game has been missing. Love, love, LOVE fresh, out-of-the-box interpretations of The Bard -- especially by people of color. I'd have given anything to have seen Orson Welle's "Voodoo" Macbeth (I'm fixated on "The Scottish Play"). As the quote says, some of his plays are "difficult," but that makes them all the more enjoyable when a director figures out how to unlock and free them for new adaptations. Bravo.

  • Damone | November 13, 2012 10:27 PMReply

    This sounds amazing! :-)

  • RB | November 13, 2012 8:51 PMReply

    This is excellent. I am currently in Miami, so I can't wait to see this! :)

  • tamara | November 13, 2012 4:12 PMReply

    i would pay to see this. i love modern day revivals of shakespearean works (with some exceptions, of course), but to have shakespeare with hommes and femmes of couleur?... yes, i will have some.

  • Jeremy | November 13, 2012 3:56 PMReply

    I've recently acted in one of the brother/sister plays, (The Brothers Size) and the hype around this playwright is completely deserved. I eagerly await this work.

  • Obehi | November 13, 2012 1:04 PMReply

    This is huge.

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