Saw a very disappointing "Cymbeline" last night. Great director - Mark Lamos. Great cast - John Cullum, Martha Plimpton, Phylicia Rashad, Michael Cerveris, Jonathan Cake. Great play. "Cymbeline" is maybe my favorite Shakespeare. So - what happened?
I've seen Lamos do excellent work - "Tiny Alice" and "Seascape" at Hartford Stage, his "Butterfly" at City Opera, "Our Country's Good" years ago. All of the above-mentioned actors I've seen give fantastic performances. Granted, they're in previews now, but this "Cymbeline" looks under-rehearsed. There's no cohesion. The actors have that furtive 'where's the fire exit?' look in their eyes. And when good actors are uncomfortable, they dig into that bag of tricks to save their asses.
"Cymbeline" is tough to pull off - a delicate mix of high comedy, tragedy, fairy tale, poetry, song, myth, gore and a smidge of Celtic history. I've been fortunate enough to see two excellent productions of it in New York in the last few years - Bartlett Sher's Wild West production at Theatre for a New Audience, and Mark Rylance's stunning Globe production done at the Harvey at BAM. This is a play that if done right can move, mystify and transport.
The best explanation I can come up with is that the actors who are in it are top-notch, but not at this material. They seem disconnected from what they're saying. It's not that they don't know what they're saying - but they haven't found how to speak it in a way that puts it over. I couldn't even close my eyes and just enjoy the language because I couldn't hear it. The problematic Beaumont space doesn't help here. Neither does lousy amplification. Even Jonathan Cake in a towel didn't fix it for me. (That could be an expression, actually - "Jonathan Cake in a towel can't fix this for me.")
That said, Herb Foster in the small role of Dr. Cornelius, lands every time. I could actually feel my shoulders relax whenever he opened his mouth. He knows how to make the words do the work.