Brooklyn | 1h 15m | Already closed

The Emperor

From 22 critic and 26 member reviews
Members say: Great acting, Absorbing, Masterful, Thought-provoking, Intelligent

About the show

This adaptation of Ryszard Kapuściński‘s celebrated and controversial 1978 book of the same title is a parable about power set at the downfall of Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie. More…

Actress Kathryn Hunter shapeshifts, portraying ten male servants of Haile Selassie, among them his pillow-bearer, purse-bearer and dog-urine wiper, creating complex human portraits. Hunter is joined by Ethiopian musician Temesgen Zeleke.

Kapuściński slyly used "The Emperor" to illuminate corruption and political power in his native Poland. This adaptation resonates with the world’s growing and disturbing fascination with despotism.

Theatre's Leiter Side

"'The Emperor''s continuing value is as a coolly satirical, universal reflection on the excesses and abominations of autocracies everywhere, not least the one that's growing in our midst. But the chief reason to see 'The Emperor' is the platform it provides for the diminutive British actress Kathryn Hunter, known for her idiosyncratic characterizations of both male, female, and even nonhuman characters…'The Emperor' is brief, thematically pointed, and perfectly executed." Full Review

Front Mezz Junkies

"Theatre for a New Audience, much to my pleasure, dives into their new season with a fascinating, although slightly distancing investigation on what it means to be Emperor of a small African nation in the early 1900’s...Deliciously portraying each and every one of those sublime characters is the shape-shifting virtuoso, Kathryn Hunter...This co-production seldom rises too far into the land of greatness and superiority, but the overall effect is worthy of our attention." Full Review

New York Stage Review

"It has become a cliché to describe Hunter’s basic acting attribute as shape-shifting, but since clichés can usually be traced to inconvertible truths, shape-shifting is a description that gets to the core of any number of her mesmerizing performances...In little more than an hour Hunter, Zeleke, Meierjohann, and cohorts succinctly prove his contention about the multi-faceted good and bad nature of the globally powerful." Full Review

New York Magazine / Vulture

"Part Brechtian commentary and part clown show, part investigation of the last days of a real regime and part playful, piercing allegory. It’s a concentrated, compelling piece of theater with a light touch...Hunter sketches each player in Selassie’s political theater with sly wit and technical finesse...Selassie is no more than a whispered name...but everyone is complicit in the narrative of his omnipotence...Hunter, Zeleke, Meierjohann, and Teevan reveal all this with agility, wisdom, and hu... Full Review

Show Showdown

“More like a magazine story brought to life than an actual play, ‘The Emperor’ still has much going for it, the main things being the performances of the protean and ever-fascinating Hunter and the music...‘The Emperor’ weaves a vivid tapestry around a Selassie-shaped void. While he is not in the show per se, Selassie's effect, affect, and whims are everywhere...Has a limited point of view...No plot, story line, or arc...Has no conflict itself...But it did motivate me to learn more.” Full Review


“An athletically staged two-hander...Hunter is a compelling, yet almost Lilliputian, presence. Shifting from one role to another...relying primarily on alterations in posture, inflection, and affect. Some of her characterizations are more distinctive than others; yet she manages to maneuver her lithe frame and manipulate her gravelly voice in strikingly different ways...Teevan's adaptation is a theatrical reflection on present day dictatorial regimes." Full Review

Off Off Online

"Every bit as intellectual a docudrama as it sounds, mostly lacking emotional engagement. It’s more like history presented with interspersed activity as window dressing...Director Walter Meierjohann paces the show well and uses Hunter’s gift of movement to enliven the talky play...Ultimately, 'The Emperor' is a persuasive portrait of the various ways human beings may succumb to tyranny." Full Review

Time Out New York

"In Colin Teevan’s 75-minute stage adaptation, Hunter plays a double-handful of characters from 'The Emperor,' whizzing through gorgeous comic sketches...turning each episode into something funny and poignant and sweet...This is a Hunter showcase through and through...The play does not tell us much about Ethiopia's actual past, nor does it speak to the present moment...Despite Hunter's dazzling performance, 'the Emperor' leaves little impression." Full Review

New York Stage Review

“Although Hunter is a vital force, she is no Deavere Smith when it comes to creating an effective range of colorful voices and physical attitudes to project these different people. The text is not greatly there tends to be a sameness to the performance...Thanks to its fascinating history and Hunter’s forceful presence, ‘The Emperor’ never ceases to maintain interest, but when all is said and done, this mosaic of viewpoints silhouettes the figure of Selassie rather than fleshes him... Full Review

The New York Times

"Journalistic virtues are not necessarily theatrical ones. What’s compelling in newsprint, or for that matter in life, does not always scintillate when turned into a play. That is but one of the problems...It is informative and clever, and features a notable performance by that shape-shifter Kathryn Hunter. But as drama, it’s dead...There is little dramatic shape to ‘The Emperor.’ Stating and restating the same proposition for 70 comes off as a well-meaning stunt." Full Review


"Kathryn Hunter is one of my favorite living actors, but she is white and British and spends the entirety of 'The Emperor' playing eleven different Ethiopians. This happens without any apparent self-reflection and is profoundly disheartening...Shame on everyone involved who watched and said nothing." Full Review

The Arts Desk

for a previous production “Hunter spellbinds in a very Shakespearean downfall drama...The triumph is shared by everybody involved, lighting and soundscape designers included...Zeleke features as four representatives of the younger generation, but his equally important role is as a musical Greek chorus...He’s as much a true artist as Hunter...Teevan’s perfect adaptation mirrors the three parts of Kapuściński’s study, and this production has all the musical ebb and flow of a great one-hour symphony.” Full Review

What's On Stage (UK)

for a previous production “Hunter is one of the best. In ‘The Emperor’ she stands on a virtually bare stage and in swift, almost seamless motion, brings a whole world to life...This is a tour de force of theatrical story-telling. With the simplest of props...It is Hunter we rely on, alone save for the musician Zeleke, providing music, a sung commentary and – briefly – incarnating the lost, rebellious son...It is a richly absorbing hour.” Full Review

Ham&High Broadway

for a previous production “Teevan has created an extraordinary showcase for the chameleon like Kathryn Hunter...Hunter embodies a dozen of Selassie’s loyal flunkeys, magically switching between them...Her consummate skill is matched by that of krar-strumming musician Zeleke...Meierjohann wisely keeps the staging relatively stark and simple, drawing us into the spellbinding storytelling. A fascinating behind-the-scenes glimpse of absolute power, and a human take on a resonant history lesson.” Full Review

A Younger Theatre

for a previous production "That Hunter provides a masterwork of physical performance will come as no surprise to anyone who has seen her in 'Kafka’s Monkey' or her other semi-legendary achievements. She is made of pure protean stage material, seemingly dissolving and reforming into the different characters...The text itself is wonderfully sparse and direct...The direction of the piece does wonders with the incredibly spare material on which to build." Full Review

The Guardian (UK)

for a previous production “Hunter is a strutting minister one minute and the emperor’s pillow-bearer the next in this shrewd and resonant account of Haile Selassie’s fall from grace...A showcase for the actor’s undoubted virtuosity...The problem is that we focus more on the actor’s skill than on the madness of power...Even if this version starts as something of a variety turn by the astonishing shapeshifting Hunter, it gradually expands into a resonant and troubling metaphor for the great melancholy of power." Full Review

The London Evening Standard

for a previous production "At first this looks set to be an amusing, detailed parade of oddballs and an exhibition of Hunter’s talents...Meierjohann’s intimate production accentuates Hunter’s mesmeric presence...It is at its best when it also involves Zeleke...The result is an intriguing vision of Selassie’s complexities — not a definitive account, but a suggestive take on his shortcomings and the devotion that he inspired.” Full Review

Time Out London

for a previous production “The tone is tenderly comic but always earnest: most of the subjects are old eccentrics with extraneous jobs...With the humour coming more from the absurdity of their jobs...Enhanced by the intimacy of Meierjohann’s production, which comes from both the fact it’s mostly just one woman...but also because...she breaks off to involve Zeleke...His inclusion feels generous and his music haunting...‘The Emperor’ is a study in love; a strange, perhaps misplaced love, but love all the same.” Full Review

The Guardian (UK)

for a previous production “Teevan has written a version in which an entire country is conjured up by only two performers...This could easily have become a tedious tour de force. Hunter helps to prevent that with her particular mixture of gravity and irony...The tremendous musician Zeleke is on stage throughout, sometimes singing, sometimes sending out ripples of notes like a wind...It looks levelly at the allure of a man who introduced electricity to Ethiopia.” Full Review

Exeunt Magazine

for a previous production “Hunter performs a complex, sensuous look at Ethiopia’s last emperor, Haile Selassie...Each character is completely distinct...Hunter embraces the tools her physicality gives her...Kapuscinski’s book has been criticised for the way it caricatures the Ethiopians...In anyone else’s hands, the politics of a white woman playing these black people could be deeply uncomfortable. But Hunter’s sensitive performance carefully negotiates its territory.” Full Review

The Telegraph (UK)

for a previous production "Even if you didn’t know and adore her from her remarkable body of work, often gender-swapping, often shape-shifting, you’d be by turns captivated, amused and impressed by what she does here...The neat trick of the piece, directed by Walter Meierjohann, is to create a constant sense of the mercurial and the magical...You can’t keep your eyes off her...What’s needed is a fully rounded theatrical portrait of the man and the myth." Full Review

The Times (UK)

for a previous production “It’s a fantastic story...I can see why Hunter was chosen. She is a shape-shifter...It’s just Hunter on stage, accompanied by Ethiopian melodies...I think it was too much even for her...It’s a great story but this is a flawed re-telling. The director Meierjohann needed to control the pace more and the set design by Green is too sparse. In the end all the heavy lifting has been left to Hunter and, though she has moments of brilliance, it’s not enough.” Full Review

Magnificent acting, Multifaceted, Ethiopian music, Historical, Satirical

See it if You love exquisite acting (10 male parts played by tiny Kathryn Hunter, w/ out-sized skill) and adore ethnic music and gorgeous tenor songs.

Don't see it if You object to parts awarded for acting merit, as opposed to race or sex. Or if you can't understand satire and "deeper" meanings on power.

Also After the performance I spoke with a young Ethiopian woman who attende... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Great acting, Great staging, Riveting, Intense

See it if Virtuoso acting from Kathryn Hunter (I feel lucky to have seen her in this show) is reason enough

Don't see it if You prefer plays with a conventional plot structure or don't like it when one actor plays all the characters

Epic, Great acting, Great writing, Profound, Thought-provoking

See it if you like theater that will make you think and you appreciate great acting.

Don't see it if you don't appreciate small stagings and expect to be entertained rather than put outside your comfort zoene.

Also I was in my teens when I first lay my hands on a copy of Ryszard Kapuś... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Clever, Riveting, Profound, Masterful

See it if You enjoy brilliant acting and a clever script. Great physicality and odd but endearing character!

Don't see it if You don't like one woman shows.

Absorbing, Great acting, Intelligent, Masterful, Intense

See it if You want to see a tour de force of acting by the british kathryn hunter playing 9 different servants to haile selassie.

Don't see it if You dont like one person shows and are looking for something light and entertaining.

Great acting, Thought-provoking

See it if Tour de force performance by the remarkable Kathryn Hunter, haunting music of Temesgen Zeleke. Neglected subject of recent Ethiopian history

Don't see it if If a one man show does not appeal, or little interest in this subject and any sensitivity to whites portraying black characters with humor.

Relevant, Masterful, Funny, Moving, Tragic

See it if Faults of monarchical power, but also the love of a bygone way of life. Virtuosic solo performance with wonderful musical accompaniment.

Don't see it if You don’t enjoy non-fiction solo shows. You don’t like ethnic music.

Absorbing, Great acting, Intelligent, Thought-provoking, Masterful

See it if essentially a one woman show, where she portrays 11 characters in Ethiopia after the fall of Haile Salasie. Great Acting

Don't see it if Have no interest in subject matter, want elaborate staging, don't like one person shows.

Great acting, Relevant, Thought-provoking

See it if Acting and writing are enough, even when the story itself creates difficulties- history makes for a difficult translation to the stage.

Don't see it if History and it’s artistic interpretation through music, word & character - aren’t enough.

Absorbing, Delightful, Great acting, Disappointing, Fluffy

See it if you want one of Kathryn Hunter's typical tour-de-force performances, or will enjoy a satire skewering power.

Don't see it if you're hoping for something that speaks directly to our political moment. The production seems to want to, but isn't particularly effective.

Great acting, Intelligent, Quirky, Clever, Informative

See it if you would enjoy a single actress portraying multiple male roles that illuminate a period of history, probably one you don't know much about.

Don't see it if you don't like plays based on true events and/or you don't like shows that are (mostly) a single actor.

Great acting, Quirky, Ambitious, Disappointing, Slow

See it if you enjoy the performance of Kathryn Hunter, a treasure

Don't see it if you like theater that has accompanying drama. This was like an interview with a dozen participants

Slow, Anecdotal, Non-dramatic, Unvarying, Fragmented

See it if you would like to experience one of the world's great actors, even in inferior fare.

Don't see it if you are one of those people for whom lots of anecdote, even with music & lighting effects, does not quite equal drama.

Also Kathryn Hunter is one of the world’s great actors. But “The Emperor,” ... Read more Read less

Banal, Great acting, Indulgent, Slow, Disappointing

See it if You love Kathryn Hunter or are curious about Haile Selassie's reign.

Don't see it if You aren't already interested in the cast or subject matter.

Banal, Fluffy, Overrated, Slow

See it if If you want to see Kathryn Hunter in many roles.

Don't see it if Not really good, slow. If you want a show of imitation.

Banal, Boring, One note

See it if For some reason you would like to learn something of the end of the regime of Haile Selassie through the acting of Katherine Hunter.

Don't see it if You're not anxious to see her play a bunch of characters who all seem the same. Fortunately there are loud noises at times to wake you up.

Banal, Cliched, Borderline blackface, Colonialist whitewashing

See it if you want to see a European woman portray 10 Ethiopian characters in a story that credits white people for toppling a corrupt African regime.

Don't see it if Questions of whether this is appropriate aside, it's also a dreadful piece of writing, poorly staged, with a performance that is dull.

Entertaining, Great acting, Edgy, Profound, Thought-provoking

See it if You want a fine display of acting

Don't see it if You’re looking for light theatre


See it if You recognize this play is not about Ethiopia or Haile Selassie. One actress plays almost all parts.

Don't see it if You are looking to learn something about Ethiopia.

During previews
Great acting, Masterful, Must see, Riveting, Absorbing

See it if You want to experience a masterful performance of journalistic type storytelling recreating the final years of a dictator. Bravo to an

Don't see it if You dislike storytelling and one actor assuming many and all characters.

Also exceptional actress and skilled musician/singer. Absorbing and well wo... Read more Read less

During previews
Absorbing, Great acting, Masterful, Informative, Surprising

See it if you'd hate to miss what may be the bravura performance of this season via a theatrical portrait of Haile Selassie as told by his servants.

Don't see it if you refuse to believe a woman can accurately play a man onstage even as Kathryn Hunter does it over and over again before your very eyes.

During previews
Absorbing, Great acting, Masterful, Intelligent, Riveting

See it if you love the craft of acting. Kathryn Hunter is a marvel as she is in everything she has ever done). The music is compelling as well

Don't see it if a solo performance, no matter how brilliant, will not hold your attention. This is about Kathryn Hunter and her mesmerizing performance

During previews
Absorbing, Great acting, Masterful, Thought-provoking

See it if See this this show if you enjoy unique theatrical pieces. Interesting subject matter and masterful performance by Kathryn Hunter.

Don't see it if May be too unique for some theatre goers.

During previews
Inventive, Masterful performance, Wonderful musical accompaniment

See it if Masterclass in acting by the always wonderful Kathryn Hunter. Great musical counterpoint by Ethiopian krar player Temesgen Zeleke.

Don't see it if No sets, cast of one with a musician playing an unfamiliar instrument, sole actor playing multiple roles addressing audience, no real plot.

Also The final years of Haile Selassie as ruler of Ethiopia as told by his ... Read more Read less

During previews
Clever, Masterful, Intelligent, Relevant, Intense

See it if Superbly acted...BUT...I was seated in the almost last row (L) and missed much dialogue.

Don't see it if You are uninterested in watching one actor portray many roles.

Cast & Creatives (9)