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Sheeren Macklin as Nefereru, April Yvette Thompson as Hatshepsut, Seria Irving as Senenmut, Photo Credit: Harlem Classical Theatre
Articles, Reviews

A Woman’s Rule: Review of The Harlem Classical Theatre’s production of Fit for a Queen

A Woman’s Rule: Review of The Harlem Classical Theatre’s production of Fit for a Queen
A Theatre Review by Juan R. Recondo
Arab Stages, Volume 5, Number 1 (Fall, 2016)
©2016 by Martin E. Segal Theatre Center Publication

The Harlem Classical Theatre production of Betty Shamieh’s Fit for a Queen is an exploration of sexual politics and power set in ancient Egypt. The action revolves around Queen Hatshepsut’s (April Yvette Thompson) relationship with her servant, confidant, and lover, Senenmut (Sheriah Irving). Historians believe that Hatshepsut was the second known female pharaoh who ruled Egypt from 1478 to 1458 B.C.E. after the death of her husband, Thutmose II (reigned 1493-79 B.C.E.). The play takes creative license by shortening Hatshepsut’s twenty-year reign to emphasize how the character loses her godly status because she is a woman. Thutmose III (Eshan Bay) is next in line to become pharaoh, yet he is more interested in his gardens than in Egypt and so the queen takes over the throne. Hatshepsut’s own daughter, Nefereru (Shereen Macklin), who is married to her half-brother, Thutmose III, persuades her husband to claim the throne as its rightful heir after the passing of their father, Thutmose II (Gilbert Cruz). Nevertheless, even when the play is about the struggle for the throne among the ancient Egyptian ruling elite, it mainly focuses on Senenmut’s passionate affair with Hatshepsut and how the servant’s actions lead to her mistress’s coronation as pharaoh and her ultimate downfall.

The tempestuous relationship between Senenmut and Hatshepsut at the center of the play adds needed complexity to the intermingling of love and power. Sheriah Irving’s performance as Senenmut masterfully portrays how the cunning servant uses her position to achieve her own goals. The play opens by displaying Senenmut’s control over her male lover, Wanre (John Clarence Stewart), whom she blackmails into having sex. Later, to strengthen her control over Wanre, she orders his wife’s death. While these character traits could make her appear as a terrible villain, Senenmut’s tenderness towards Hatshepsut seems honest. Irving’s achievement in playing Senenmut lies in how, even when the audience understands that the character is using her influence over Hatshepsut for her own means, her love for the queen still feels pure and delicate. At the same time, April Yvette Thompson instills her performance as Hatshepsut with an unwavering royal dignity, which accentuates her vulnerability during her private moments with Senenmut. This constant movement between opposites informs Christopher and Justin Swader’s set design. The performing space has two opposing platforms. One mostly represents the queen’s quarters and the other is occupied by the ailing pharaoh. This separation poses Gilbert Cruz’s performance of Thutmose II as a weakened sexual predator frustrated due to his impotence against Hatshepsut’s dignified demeanor. After Thutmose dies and Hatshepsut occupies his side of the performing area when she assumes power, her discussions with Senenmut on how to abolish slavery contrast the deceased pharaoh’s indifference towards his subjects. In moments like these, Tamilla Woodward’s direction is at the top of its game. Yet the play’s constant switching from serious drama to physical comedy gives the show a somewhat confused tone. At times, scenes lose some of their dramatic effectiveness when a slave leaves the performing space by walking in a ridiculous manner or a character reacts in an exaggerated way to some serious news. In these instances, Woodward should have gone for a more cohesive production concept rather than lightening the mood with unnecessary comic elements.

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