Friday, November 16, 2007

Sleepy Times at Lincoln Center

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.


Zack Calhoon said...

Ah Lincoln Center. That doesn't surprise me.

By the way, have you ever read Shaw's review of a production of "Cymbeline" in which he re-writes the Fifth Act, because he thought he knew how to "fix it". It's hilarious.

David Johnston said...

Actually, I have not. But on Dec 10, the Performing Arts Library at Lincoln Center is having the cast of Cymbeline read the Shaw Fifth Act. I do want to try and catch it.

Gotta love Shaw. If Shakespeare doesn't 'work,' he's gonna fix it. No timidity about his gifts.

And I have to say, the fifth act of Cymbeline has probably some of my favorite Shakespeare in it.

David D. said...

Well, if it helps, I have had gigs requiring me to "fix" and certainly heavily reduce all five Acts of even the most proven and unproblematic Shakespeare Plays.

Albeit with less fanfare than Shaw.

(And less prior credibility)