By: Paulanne Simmons
Hatshepsut, the second female pharoah, came to the throne of Egypt in 1478 BC. The chief wife of Thutmose II, she ruled jointly with her son, Thutmose III, for twenty-two years. However, toward the end of Thutmose III’s reign, an attempt was made to erase the memory of Hatshepsut from the historical record. Her images were chiseled off walls, her statues were torn down and someone even attempted to wall up her obelisks.
It’s not clear who that someone was. Some believe the culprit was Thutmose III, who resented the many years he was forced to rule alongside his mothers. Others point their finger at Amenhotep II, son of Thutmose III, who having a weak link to the royal house, did his best to destroy the royal lineage altogether.
This chicanery from thousands of years ago has become the basis of Fit for a Queen, an intriguing comedy by Betty Shamieh. The Classical Theatre of Harlem is presenting the play’s world premiere, directed by Tamilla Woodard and featuring Tony Award-winner April Yvette Thompson as Hatshepsut, at 3LD Art & Technology Center.
In this updated version of the ancient story, Hapshepsut usurps the throne with the help of her female lover, the clever and sexy former slave, Senenmut (Sheria Irving), while her moribund husband Thutmose II (Gilbert Cruz) dallies with slave girls. In the meantime, Hatshepsut’s daughter, Nefereru (Shereen Macklin), and her intended husband, Tutu (Eshan Bay), along with his servant, Wanre (John Clarence Stewart), equally beloved by Tutu and Senenmut, have their own plans.
The play, which mixes foolish farce with serious satire in equal degrees, has a generally fast pace that is sometimes bogged down with unequal acting. But when the going gets roughest, the ensemble of servants comes in to save the day, with ritualized dance that has a pronounced modern feel, as choreographed by Joya Powell.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that Shamieh is making a statement to 21st century America. While many hope Hillary will rise to the presidency with a good deal less upheaval than Hatshepsut, Fit for a Queen is an apt reminder that the road to power has never been easy for a woman.
Fit for a Queen runs through October 30 at 3LD Art & Technology Center, 80 Greenwich St., 212-645-0374 or www.cthnyc.org.
Photo: Lelund Durond Thompson