Monday, December 03, 2007

Did Cymbeline Receive Posthumus Critical Acclaim?

Did Cymbeline Receive Posthumus Critical Acclaim?

Yesterday, the first William Shakespeare play to receive a Broadway revival in two years opened at Lincoln Center Theater at the Vivian Beaumont. The Mark Lamos-helmed Cymbeline includes quite the starry cast: Jonathan Cake, Michael Cerveris, John Cullum, John Pankow, Martha Plimpton and Phylicia Rashad, among others.

Critics were all across the board on this one.

Rejoicing is John Simon of Bloomberg, who raves: "Lincoln Center Theatre gives Cymbeline,' an imperfect play, a production as perfect as humanly possible. Impeccable direction, stylish acting, and enough lavish spectacle to carry the eye and ear past any demurral of the finickiest brain....All honor to Martha Plimpton for mastering the difficult role of Imogen....This Imogen transcends symbolic young womanhood into flesh-and-blood embraceableness....Most amazing, perhaps, is the Cymbeline of John Cullum, whose advanced age nowise impedes his commanding presence, youthful sprightliness and syllable-perfect diction relatively uncommon among non-British actors."

Calling the play both "emotionally charged" and "entrancing," New York Post's Clive Barnes celebrates with a three-and-a-half star review: "Cymbeline has traditionally had a reputation ranging from bad to difficult. It's not. It's a fairy tale for adults who have suffered enough to believe in fairies and heavenly providence. Perhaps the prime virtues of Lamos' elegant, eloquent staging (and the man is among the finest Shakespearean directors in the world) are its grace, speed and total intelligibility. More than any of the many productions of Cymbeline I've seen, it has an immediacy that grips, grasps and tenaciously holds."

Proclaiming this work as "ever accessible," Joe Dziemianowicz of New York's Daily News is similarly positive: "Director Mark Lamos' command at balancing light, dark and magical elements makes the chockablock tale cohesive....For Cymbeline to resonate, it helps to care about Imogen. Plimpton, who has fully shed her gawky "Goonies" tomboy past, makes a likable and plucky heroine who reeks intelligence, even when she's disguised as a man wearing a hat that looks like a small ottoman. Cerveris brings the right mix of heartbreak and rage, while beefy Cake layers on the villainy and sexiness."

Noting that "this is a work not easily tamed," David Rooney of Variety recommends the play by lavishing praise on Martha Plimpton: "Her Imogen in Lincoln Center's sumptuous Cymbeline is more complex and more complete -- the intensity of her love and pain, her exaltation and sorrow anchored by a clear-eyed intelligence that makes her nobody's fool. If not everything in Mark Lamos' production quite matches the exquisite depth and scope of Plimpton's characterization, the fault lies more in this late problem play than in the work of the director or his generally accomplished cast. Unswerving in her fidelity, Imogen may be Shakespeare's most mature heroine, but she's been given an unsteady showcase."

Offering a so-so review is Charles Isherwood of The New York Times: "Lincoln Center Theater’s stately production of Cymbeline, Shakespeare’s late romance, or tragicomedy, or whatnot, is remarkable for its lucidity. In imposing a formal elegance on one of Shakespeare’s most wayward plays, the director, Mark Lamos, keeps confusion firmly at bay, smoothing its kinked story line into a well-drilled parade of avowals and betrayals, plots and counterplots, deaths and resurrections. The clarity and restrained opulence of the production are more satisfying, unfortunately, than the caliber of the performances, which tend toward blandness or overstatement. The singular exception is an outstanding turn from Michael Cerveris, who provides the play with a wrenching emotional center as a husband who believes himself to be grossly betrayed, and who betrays his own nobler self in seeking to avenge this wrong."

Lamenting this as "a work that is endearingly broken," Eric Grode of The New York Sun is largely negative: "Mark Lamos gets through Cymbeline without painting himself into any corners. If only he had. Instead, with the help of a top-notch design team and a somewhat baffled cast, the dependably picturesque director has planted himself in the middle of the room, far from the weird angles and vertiginous gaps that make Cymbeline such an odd and potentially spellbinding play....Establishing a throughline that can prop up these wildly discordant threads is the challenge, one Mr. Lamos only halfheartedly addresses. Perhaps this stems from his recent efforts directing opera, with its implicit strata of recitatives that exist largely to prop up the arias. Or perhaps the relative unfamiliarity of the play's soliloquies, particularly those for the beguiling Imogen, resulted in a disproportionate amount of rehearsal devoted to these set pieces."

Despite calling the production "handsome," Newsday's Linda Winer offers the one flat-out pan: "What we don't know is why the ambitious Lincoln Center Theater chose to run this one by us again. Perhaps director Mark Lamos believes he found a key into mature profundities in this very silly play. One of the four late romances, which peak in the fantastical wisdom of The Tempest, Cymbeline remains a mishmash of incompatible styles and improbable plot lines. The language is not especially beautiful or witty. And despite modern scholarly protestations, the final message of reconciliation does not merely tie up the laughable number of loose ends. It wraps them in nonsensical ribbons and finishes them off with plenty of bows."

Regardless of the reviews (including my own enthusiastic SOB Review), this incarnation of Cymbeline is, alas, to be very short-lived with a run only scheduled through January 6.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.
Related Stories:
Cymbeline (The SOB Review) (December 3, 2007)
Cymbeline Opens Tonight (December 2, 2007)
I've Got A Secret (August 15, 2007)

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