Monday, December 03, 2007

Cymbeline (The SOB Review)

Cymbeline (The SOB Review) - Lincoln Center Theater at the Vivian Beaumont, New York, NY

**** (out of ****)

A funny thing happened on my way from the forum known as Lincoln Center. I left with a complete sense of wonder and downright amazement that I had finally -- and so thoroughly -- enjoyed a production of a William Shakespeare play.

As I've previously admitted in this space, the word-for-word retellings of the esteemed playwright's works tend to leave me decidedly cold. Yet the only shiver I felt upon leaving Cymbeline was the definable chill of delight shooting down my spine. I found myself utterly thrilled.

While Cymbeline became one of the Bard's most popular plays during the 18th and 19th Centuries -- the first known known production of Cymbeline occurred sometime between 1609 and 1611 -- somehow this enchanting blend of tragedy, comedy and romance managed to lose its luster at the onset of the 20th Century. In fact, the play had so fallen out of favor that director Mark Lamos' exquisite production is the first Broadway revival since the brief 1923 revival that consisted of a mere 15 performances.

Critics of Cymbeline may complain that the story is predictable, or worse, that it borrows too heavily on themes developed in Shakespeare's other earlier and more celebrated works. To be sure, there's a hint of Romeo And Juliet here and a taste King Lear there, but I beg to differ with anyone who claims that this is a predictable story. It's anything but. After all, if that were the case -- particularly if you pause to consider all of the Bard's greatest tragedies -- wouldn't the climax yield a far different conclusion in spite of the carnage and death?

It's to Lamos credit that the luster is back with a vengeance in this brilliant, sparkling revival. He empowers his cast not only to maneuver through the Byzantine layers of plot unscathed, but also to navigate through the cadences of Shakespeare's often difficult language with such natural precision, grace and gusto, that they never feel unnatural or forced. Thanks to Lamos and his cast, Shakespeare sounds unusually crisp, never mind how verbose it sometimes can be.

Chief among his players are the extraordinary stellar performances by Martha Plimpton as Princess Imogen, John Cullum as her father King Cymbeline and Paul O'Brien as the exiled lord Belarius.

The luminous Plimpton skillfully moves from dazzled lover of Posthumus (Michael Cerveris, whose performance among anyone in this cast flirts dangerously close to overreaching) to forlorn royalty in hiding with impeccable ease. Cullum aptly commands the stage as the King who's undermined by his deceitful Queen (deliciously played by Phylicia Rashad). And then there's O'Brien whose heartfelt, heroic performance as the man who unwittingly takes in each of the king's three children is both touching and exhilarating.

Other standouts in this large cast include Jonathan Cake as the ruggedly handsome Iachimo, a charming rapscallion who wagers with Posthumus that he can deflower Imogen; John Pankow as Pisanio, Posthumus' loyal servant -- it takes a strong actor to deliver such a humble performance; and Adam Dannheisser as the Queen's son Lord Cloten, who singlehandedly offers the play's best comic relief, while making the often wooden Shakespearean dialect sound vibrant.

Michael Yeargan and Jess Goldstein, respectively, offer alternately sumptuous and spare scenic and costume designs that vividly evoke the proceedings' regal grandeur, as well as the Roman baths and the harsh battle scenes, the latter of which are accentuated by the haunting lighting design offered by Brian MacDevitt.

If you are like me and have been holding out for the right time to see Shakespeare on Broadway, this is the production to see. It's one of those rare treats that I'd even consider going back to enjoy a second time. But you'd better hurry -- the limited run revival will close on January 6, 2008.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

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

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At 03 December, 2007, Blogger Esther said...

I know nothing can really make up for what you missed because of the strike, but I'm glad you enjoyed this show as a replacement.

And I'm thrilled John Cullum gives a stellar performance. I loved him as Audra McDonald's father in "110 in the Shade." He's such an accomplished, versatile actor. I can just picture him commanding the stage! I wish I could see him in this role.

How ironic that a show you almost didn't see ends up becoming your favorite Shakespeare on stage. What a wonderful outcome. Isn't it great going into something not quite sure whether you'll enjoy it and then being completely and happily surprised!


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