Thursday, November 08, 2007

Shakespeare in his "conceptual" phase

"Cymbeline" at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Center, November 6, 2007

One of Shakespeare's last four plays, Cymbeline seems to be one where he's pulling some old tricks out of his hat, hoping to mix up something new. What we get is a convoluted opera-style plot of scheming queens (real queens, that is), magic sleeping potions, gender-bending, war, not-so-dead children, beheadings and a final scene with some of the most convenient wrap-ups not seen since the final "very special Blossom" all lined up with an actual reference to history.

If you really need a plot summary, go here.

As King Cymbeline, John Cullum is still struggling on occasion with lines, but manages to bluster his way through this poor man's Lear. Phylicia Rashad, his Queen, slithers about the stage, plotting the downfall of his daughter Imogen, (Martha Plimpton) and the advancement of her son Lord Cloten (Adam Dannheisser).

Ms. Plimpton is up to her usual outstanding performance in this role that requires her to call on characteristics of both Juliet and Olivia. As her maligned, deprived yet noble secret husband, Michael Cerveris spits about as much as any actor in a Shakespeare play since Kevin Kline. His Posthumus Leonatus is a bit sniveling, but does rise to the occasion in the plot contrivances of the final act.

Jonathan Cake carries the remaining weight of this production on his beautifully muscled shoulders as the Iago-like Iachimo, plotting to wrong Posthumus during his banishment in Italy by seducing his wife Imogen. Mr. Dannheisser delights as the thick-headed Cloten.

David Furr and Gregory Wooddell, as the Jethro and Lil' Abner missing princes are physically impressive (really physically impressive), but pretty much otherwise unintelligible. Also less successful is the talented John Pankow in the thankless role of Pisanio.

Direct Mark Lamos seems to have spent more time choreographing the traffic of his large cast than bringing meaningful performances from most of the roles.

Michael Yeargan's clever sets evoke a bit of an Elizabethan setting, nicely complimented by Brain MacDevitt's clever lighting. It's Jess Goldstein's sumptuous costumes that really make the visual impact of this production.

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