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Home :: Archive :: 2000 :: May ::
Re: Cymbeline
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.1007  Wednesday, 10 May 2000.

[1]     From:   John Velz <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 09 May 2000 11:26:12 -0500
        Subj:   Cymbeline

[2]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 09 May 2000 13:07:33 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.0997 Re: Cymbeline

[3]     From:   Geralyn Horton <
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        Date:   Tuesday, 09 May 2000 15:04:49 -0400
        Subj:   Re: SHK 11.0997 Re: Cymbeline


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John Velz <
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Date:           Tuesday, 09 May 2000 11:26:12 -0500
Subject:        Cymbeline

About oddities in Cym. productions, in 1974, I think it was, John Barton
directed a Cym. in the big house at Stratford in which he cut about 900
lines and wrote some 500 of his own.  Am sorry but not surprised to say
that you did not have to know the play very well to tell which were
Shakespeare's lines and which Barton's.  This, however, was not the most
memorable feature of the prod.  Barton promoted the role of Cornelius,
the Dr., bringing him onstage from time to time with a large and ancient
looking folio to turn the pages and take us from the "real" world of the
theater to the world of improbable romance.  It worked well, on the
whole.

I once (mid-1960s) was in a production of WT in which something similar
was contemplated but not undertaken.  The director, Sandy Havens, told
me afterward that if he had it to do over again, he would frame the
throne of Leontes, a "permanent" stage fixture, with a large bit of
stage machinery designed to resemble a book with the throne inside it at
the gutter margins.  Stage hands were to have come out to turn the pages
from time to time.  I always have regretted that that ingenious idea was
never realized onstage.

Cheers!

John

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Tuesday, 09 May 2000 13:07:33 -0400
Subject: 11.0997 Re: Cymbeline
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.0997 Re: Cymbeline

About two years ago the NYSF did a magical version of Cymbeline in
Central Park, making good use of the background.  A number of list
members wrote reviews.  I particularly recall that Abigail Quart's was
glowing.  They are probably available in the archives.

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Geralyn Horton <
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Date:           Tuesday, 09 May 2000 15:04:49 -0400
Subject: 11.0997 Re: Cymbeline
Comment:        Re: SHK 11.0997 Re: Cymbeline

I've seen 3.  Two were the same summer, NYSF in Central Park: good, esp
the intimate scenes, where microphones made intimately-pitched speech
intelligible.  Armies were made up of "creatures", sort of like Sesame
St's Big Bird.

Stratford Ontario: even better, but the opposite of intimate-big
unamplified voices blocked wide, big emotions and gestures.  Queen
astounding.  Wars frightening. Jupiter and Eagle awe inspiring.  I THINK
a  gorgeous brilliant young Christopher Walken played one of the lost
princes-but I may have fantasized that casting. Whoever he was, Prince
Tweedledee made a big impression!

Both Clotens wonderful. What a role!

Mid nineties: Huntington Theatre.   I reviewed this one.

QUOTING MYSELF:

CYMBELINE is a romantic tale rehearsing many of Shakespeare's familiar
themes, set in a pre-Christian Britain where charity reigns and
"Pardon's the word to all". As Shakespeare is preeminent among writers
in lavishness, unpacking the hearts of even minor characters with winged
words, piling on incident and subplot and divine intervention until his
constructions are the bane of classicists in every age, so Cymbeline is
the Bard at the top of his bent-and maybe even a bit over the top.

As in LEAR, the title character is an old king who rejects his
headstrong and virtuous daughter.  On the human level, it is lust,
malevolence, and folly that rule. Marriages, friendships, kingdoms are
made and split by whim. Everybody, even down to the servants, goes
through reversals; betrays and is betrayed. (Some few of these got cut
when the Huntington trimmed the prodigious script to a manageable three
hours.) The tone is epic, even mock-epic, rather than tragic: Jove is
over all, the soul advances to happiness through painful experience, as
deep supra-natural forces work towards a goal beyond man's ken.

  The Huntington production apparently set out to match the script in
prodigies, and in prodigality.  John Falabella's design sketches
probably looked spectacular, and in them the director may have seen a
chance to integrate all the disparate elements: Classical Rome,
Machiavellian Italians, the court of ancientBritain, wild outlaw caves.
But it turns out that the set has florid detail that makes the first
scene-a directorially interpolated dumb show-look impressive, and every
subsequent scene look ridiculous.

The costumes, too, simply don't work: although by now the audience is
used to almost any sort of outfit in Shakespeare, including PJ's for the
ART's Hamlet.  This "postmodern" approach to costuming is close in
spirit to the practice of Shakespeare's own time. Then, actors generally
wore contemporary garments suitable to their characters' age and social
rank, with a few additional symbolic elements. But in David Murin's
designs, something went radically wrong. Instead of being tied together
by a bit of glitter here, some macrame there, a Renaissance waistline
paired with a hip-hop haircut-the costumes turned out vulgar and clumsy,
right out of a low-budget sci/fi movie.  They signal to the audience a B
movie's contempt for subtlety and seriousness.

By the time of his late romances Shakespeare seems to have lost some of
his own seriousness, and begun to view politics with the offhand irony
he applied to love in the earlier comedies.  The rousing speech of
British patriotism, worthy of Henry V, is put in the mouth of Cloten, a
villan and a fool.  Divine Right of Kings is undercut by Cymbeline
himself, a legitimate ruler whose every action is that of a dupe or a
dope.  But Shakespeare hasn't lost faith in personal grace.  Imogen is
the star part. This is a woman-a girl, really-whose physical presence is
so compelling that strangers fall in love with her, even when she is
disguised by rags and dirt, pretending to be a servant boy.

Like the twins Sebastian and Viola, Imogen and her lost brothers are
nature's nobles. They exceed from birth what education and condition aim
at, and they win love and loyalty at sight. Unfortunately, at the
Huntington these three had no family resemblance.  "Purists" might say,
what do you expect, when the politically correct insist on
nontraditional casting?  But the poetry and princely bearing of Keith
Hamilton Cobb as the king's younger son suggest that had his siblings
been cast, like him, in a way that visually suggested that all their
virtues came from the dead queen their mother's side of the family, the
production would have been the richer for it.

Successful productions of Cymbeline, such as that of Canada's Stratford
company in 1971, usually follow a strategy of enlisting the imagination
of the audience in making the implausible credible. In the most famous
of these implausiblities, the scene where Imogen wakes up in a grave
which also contains a headless corpse she believes to be that of her
husband, the Huntington's director, Larry Carpenter, decided to put poor
Lyn Wright downstage center on the bare floor, and partner her with what
is clearly a dummy smeared with something that looks remarkably like
ketchup.  Were she as talented as the legendary Imogen Ellen Terry, Ms.
Wright might still have had to contend with derisive snorts and titters
from the audience.

Both Ms. Wright, and Sheila Allen, who plays the wicked Queen, have
impressive resumes. Both are o'erparted here.  Surely it would have been
possible to find in Boston a pair of actresses who could have come
closer to filling out these roles?

Bryant Weeks made Posthumous as sympathetic as possible to an age where
husbands are not entitled to kill their wives, however adulterous.  John
Christopher Jones as Cloten and James Bodge and Richard McGonigale as
Cloten's attendants got full comic value from the boorish prince's
behavior. Gary Sloan relished his villainy as Iachimo, but he never set
in motion the crosscurrents of perverse idealism that would have made
his repentance believable. However, that might have been a wasted
effort, because this production plays all the last act revelations and
reversals for laughs.

Critics and directors have disagreed on how far any of CYMBELINE'S
fabulous events must be creditable for the tale to have significance
beyond mere entertainment. The 1971 Papp production in Central Park
shrugged off the battle scenes, assigning them to an army composed of
giant crows and ostriches. Still, as mere entertainment, and even in the
Huntington's less than stellar production, there are riches here to
amuse and amaze the eye, "..hitting each object with a joy".

Geralyn Horton, Playwright
Newton, Mass. 02460
<http://www.tiac.net/users/ghorton>
 

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