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(photo by Joan Marcus)

Cleopatra (Joaquina Kalukango) and Mark Antony (Jonathan Cake) seek love in war-torn Saint Domingue in Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Shakespeare adaptation at the Public (photo by Joan Marcus)

Anspacher Theater at the Public Theater
425 Lafayette St. below Astor Pl.
Through March 23, $40-$80

There’s a brief synopsis in the program of the Public Theater’s new presentation of Antony and Cleopatra, but that won’t help you make sense of this ill-conceived production. A collaboration with the Royal Shakespeare Company, Ohio State University and Miami’s GableStage, Tarell Alvin McCraney’s adaptation moves the tale of romance and power to eighteenth-century Saint Domingue, the Caribbean colony that would soon become Haiti, although you wouldn’t know it from Tom Piper’s set, mostly a bare stage with a series of Roman columns that block at least part of the action from nearly everyone in the audience. At the back of the stage, a small pool reflects light onto a sky-blue wall, while above a four-piece band contributes Haitian music. Jonathan Cake (Medea, Cymbeline) as Mark Antony and Joaquina Kalukango (Hurt Village, Godspell) as Cleopatra lack any chemistry as he attempts to maintain his alliance with Octavius Caesar (Samuel Collings adding Napoleonic touches) by marrying Caesar’s sister, Octavia (Charise Castro-Smith), which angers Cleopatra, her maidservants, Iras (Castro-Smith) and Charmian (Sarah Niles), and her eunuch soothsayer (Chivas Michael). But when Antony returns to Cleopatra, trying to have it both ways, yet more battles await, both personal and political. Public Theater artist in residence McCraney (The Brother/Sister Plays), who is credited as director and editor, drains the story of any passion, moving along the plot in a tedious, procedural manner, with Chukwudi Iwuji, the standout performer in the show, playing the narrator as well as Enobarbus. Bringing together a cast of actors from the United States and the U.K. portraying characters from Rome and the French Caribbean leads to further confusion as different accents fly off in all directions, leaving the audience to wonder just what it’s all about.

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