Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Stratford 2012 -- Cymbeline

The program notes tell us that Cymbeline is thought to be the last play Shakespeare wrote. If it is, then it is a sort of grand finale of all of his works, combining elements of every style and genre that he used in the rest of the canon. There are hints of Hamlet, As You Like It, Romeo and Juliet, Othello, Julius Caesar, and even a touch of A Midsummer Night's Dream; and probably a few I missed (oh, yes, A Winter's Tale seems to be in there, too).

The plot follows a typical Shakespearean route: a king banishes his daughter for botching an arranged marriage to a dolt; she chooses a nice but poor fellow, and then we get into jealousy, trickery, false accusations of adultery, cross-dressing as a boy as a disguise to hide out, stolen babies, old retainers who take pity on the banished, rustic rubes in the woods, crashing battle scenes, a deus ex machina appearance by a Roman god, the inevitable climactic scene where all is revealed and all are reconciled, and a few Agatha Christie revelations are thrown in for good measure.

Even the most dedicated Shakespeare scholar -- and I am by any measure not one -- would have trouble explaining the plot or filling in the holes, but this is the kind of play that Stratford does very well, and this production does not disappoint. As we were going in to the theatre, I warned my parents that the running time on this production was three hours -- and it was -- and we were seeing the play in the Tom Patterson Theatre, a converted curling rink with hard chairs. Wow, what a first night. But the play moved along quickly and the acting was up to their usual superb standards. Director Antoni Cimolino, who is to assume the duties of Artistic Director for the festival next year, chose wisely in his casting of the roles, including Cara Ricketts as Imogen, the daughter who is the focus of so many troubles. The title role was played by Geraint Wyn Davies, who has been with the company for nine seasons and has moved gracefully from playing the young hunk to the mature father figure. Graham Abbey has the unenviable task of playing Posthumus, the love interest for Imogen. I sometimes think Shakespeare wrote roles like that almost as an afterthought; he gets battered about, he's not got a lot of driving action in the plot, and in this case, he gets the daylights kicked out of him by both the Romans and the Britons. The course of true love never did run smooth, right? But he ends up with the woman he loves, and all's well that... well, you get the idea. (One thing Stratford used to fall short on was the casting of men with the builds to play the parts, and the PYSBO (Put Your Shirt Back On) quotient was high. I'm happy to report they're getting better at it, or they've added a gym to the green room.)

The supporting roles were also done well and in full dimension; Michael Sharo as the aptly-named Cloten plays the thick-necked dull-witted brute to perfection, and his comeuppance is shocking but not unsatisfying, and Tom McCamus plays an oily villain to perfection. The set design was minimal, as is necessary on the elongated thrust stage of the Patterson, but that didn't stop them from using lights, fog, and costumes to good effect.

If this was indeed the Bard's last work, it was a retrospective rather than a eulogy. There were no heavy speeches, few quotable or memorable lines, and rather than leave the stage strewn with corpses, he gives us a happy if not wistful exeunt omnes. Not a bad way to go.



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