Theatre & Film

New Play At The Alley Depicts A Love Affair As Epic As The Film ‘Cleopatra’

‘Cleo’ tells the story of the torrid, on- and off-screen love affair between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, the stars of the 1963 epic ‘Cleopatra.’ Writer Lawrence Wright and director Bob Balaban discuss the project, nearly a decade in the making.

Lisa Birnbaum as Cleopatra
Actor Lisa Birnbaum poses in costume as Cleopatra for the Alley Theatre’s production of Cleo.


The 1963 film Cleopatra was an epic – in more than one way. And now Cleo, a world-premiere play at the Alley Theatre, shows just how.

In addition to its epic story line and its epic length, the film was also noteworthy for being a sprawling, expensive, debacle of a production that nearly bankrupted 20th Century-Fox. And, perhaps, it was even more notorious for the torrid, off-screen love affair between its two otherwise married stars, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.

Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra
Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in a scene from the 1963 epic Cleopatra.

The play, which depicts the intense relationship between the two stars against the backdrop of the film’s colossal production, is written by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Lawrence Wright. He's known for numerous books, such as The Looming Tower, about the lead-up to the 9/11 attacks, and Going Clear, an inside look at Scientology.

Cleo is directed by veteran film and television actor and director Bob Balaban.

Playwright Lawrence Wright
Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Lawrence Wright wrote the play Cleo, spurred by adolescent memories of the scandalous off-set love affair between the stars of the 1963 film Cleopatra.

In the audio above, Wright talks with Houston Matters producer Michael Hagerty. He says his memories of the sensational tabloid scandal that surrounded Taylor and Burton’s love affair spurred him to write this story.

Cleo premieres April 6 and runs through April 29 at the Alley.

MORE: Bob Balaban Discusses Directing ‘Cleo’



Michael Hagerty

Michael Hagerty

Senior Producer, Houston Matters

Michael Hagerty is the senior producer for Houston Matters. He's spent more than 20 years in public radio and television and dabbled in minor league baseball, spending four seasons as the public address announcer for the Reno Aces, the Triple-A affiliate of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

More Information