ADVERTISING AT CURTAINUP
Short Term Listings
BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
Writing for Us
A CurtainUp Review
Cymbeline at BAM
By Elyse Sommer
First an absence of Shakespeare's Cymbeline on any New York stage for years -- and now a season with two high profile productions. The TNFA version directed by Bartlett Sher had to extend to satisfy audience demand. Its blend of costume styles and multi-cultural casting fitted the play's mish-mash of plot threads. The London's Globe Theatre production is visiting BAM for a brief spell. Unlike the lavish and colorful TNFA production, it makes its own unique statement by having just six actors assuming all the roles. No melange of styles and settings or colorful costumes -- just flowing white silk shirts and pants for the sextet on a stage stage bare of all decor except the musical instruments.
Since Macey Levin reviewed the TNFA production when it opened, I didn't see it myself until its last weekend, which made for a rare opportunity to see two very different Cymbelines on two consecutive Saturday afternoon. Bartlet Sher's approach to the convoluted, cluttered plot was sheer entertainment and totally accessible. The Globe Theatre troupe's approach at BAM is more of a challenge but it brings its own rewards.
Anyone who saw both productions is likely to agree with me that seeing one enhanced the enjoyment of the other, and since the TNFA version came first, it also made the Globe's bare bones, multiple role playing staging easier to follow. That's not to say that these productions are interdependent. The very simplicity of the Globe production connects actors and audience and establishes the humorous spirit that pervades this tragedy that's more comic than tragic; for example, having the actors walk on stage with Mark Rylance (the Globe's artistic director who plays Doctor Cornelius, Posthumus and Cloten) not only introducing the company but making the cell phone and candy wrapper announcement and clarifying role and scene switches with no more than occasionally spoken stage direction.
Rylance is a remarkable actor and seeing him perform is worth the trip to Brooklyn. His considerable comedic skills are especially notable during his chameleonic segues from the boorish, lumbering Cloten to the romantic Posthumus. Watching him and the other actors simply move to the rear of the stage when not inhabiting one of their several roles makes for an experience that's akin to a staged reading or an extended story hour with multiple narrators. This narrative approach puts the emphasis on the words. With Shakespeare that's hardly a bad thing, but still, the Globe's storytelling pales a bit (with those shirts and pants, literally so) when compared to Bartlett Sher's and brilliant red sets and costumes and Cymbeline's long lost sons in cowboy gear. Jane Armfield, while a fine actress, makes you most aware of what's lost in a presentation in which a young princess speaks but does not exactly look her part.
To add to the viewer's sense of being at a story telling more, the house lights never go down on the British troupe. You may have a roof over your head, unlike the groundlings attending plays in Shakespeare's own day, but you come close to experiencing the Bard's words in his original playing space.
For details of the plot and the TNFA production, go here.
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
Click image to buy.
Go here for details and larger image.