Theater Rhinoceros is involved in two big-time productions this week. Thanks to a certain New York City mayor's ex-wife and terrific national press, greater visibility will go to The Vagina Monologues. But don't overlook local favorite John Fisher's latest campy take on history, Cleopatra, The Musical. Following on the success of last season's hit, Barebacking: A Sex Panic! Comedy, Fisher braves the depths of the ancient Nile in this lavishly staged, politically incorrect, cast-of-hundreds-played-by-10, drag extravaganza.
Fisher mounted Cleopatra earlier this year under the auspices of the UC Berkeley drama department (where he's a doctoral student). Fisher declares that the upcoming production will be leaner and faster. He brings the principals of this summer's cast -- Jeffrey Meanza in drag as Cleo, Christopher Herold as the hapless Caesar, and Laura LeBleu butching it up as Marc Antony -- to the Victoria Theater. Despite the Victoria's smaller stage and the smaller company, Cleo's barge will float onstage, the dance numbers will percolate ridiculously, and the costumes will be fabulous. (Wendy Sparks designed the costumes and sets.)
Bay Area theatergoers have long flocked to Fisher's spectaculars for the winking parody and sexy, uproarious kitsch. A segment of Barebackingwas one of the most tightly controlled -- and yet bracingly free -- pieces of theatrical comedy I've seen. Even so, Fisher's shows don't always add up to a satisfying whole. Cleopatra's UC production had the feel of a top-notch collegiate revue, rather than real theater. Those problems should be resolved in this streamlined, professional staging.
Fisher uses classic Broadway and torch songs for the music, adding his own (and James Dudek's) screwy lyrics. He tweaks the historical, the Shakespearean, and the Liz-ian (as in Taylor) views of the queenly love object, mixing in anachronisms, jokes, and other silliness. Cleopatraisn't exactly the construction of the Pyramids, but it's still no small feat.