January 28th, 2011

La Loge


Well, I made it.  I hoicked myself off the sofa, got dressed, and subwayed on down to the New Victory Theatre, where the wonderful Theatre For A New Audience is mounting the Fiasco Theatre's production of Cymbeline, which played to great acclaim last year on Off-Off-Broadway .

Ah, Cymbeline.  GB Shaw had no mercy for it:  "It is for the most part stagey trash of the lowest melodramatic order, in parts abominably written, throughout intellectually vulgar, and judged in point of thought by modern intellectual standards, vulgar, foolish, offensive, indecent, and exasperating beyond all tolerance."

He wasn't altogether wrong, mind you.  In insensitive or over-reverent hands, Cymbeline is not only as full of plot-holes and inconsistencies as a bad Star Trek episode, but massively boring as well.  A few years back, we saw a production at Lincoln Center that lasted approximately 20 years and (as I recall--I don't seem to have reviewed it) left me wishing the entire cast would just die in the climactic battle and put everyone (including the cast) out of their misery.  As far as I could tell, they left in everything--repetitive speeches, throw-away scenes, looong transitions, Cymbeline's endless whining and the Queen's endless plotting, Uncle Tom Cobbley and all.

The Fiasco Theatre took a very different approach, notable for a firm hand with the text and a strong sense of the ridiculous.  The result is a reasonably trim tragi-comedy with a strong through-line, some truly inspired staging, some interesting doubling, and a surprising number of genuine laughs.  With six actors, everybody (except the actor playing Posthumous) doubled and tripled their roles. Cymbeline, Cloten, and the apothecary Cornelius; Iachimo and Arviragus; The Queen, a Frenchman and Belaria; Posthumous and the Roman Captain.  The actor playing Pisanio was pretty much everybody else.

They were all good enough with their voices and bodies that I was never for an instant confused about who I was watching or what was going on--not even at the end, where they had to leap in and out of character and bits of  costume during the revelation cascade.  I also loved their use of music to set the scene--the Italian scenes, for instance, were introduced by everyone singing an Italian madrigal, and in the mountain scenes, Belaria and her "sons" sang traditional American mountain tunes while playing banjo, guitar, and washboard.  Very well, too.  The song they sang over Fidele's body was Shakespeare's words set to trad music, seguing into an old American hymn.  It worked perfectly.

It wasn't perfect--I wasn't enthralled with the Queen/Belaria, who was acting her socks off without ever giving me the feeling that she was inhabiting either of her two characters.  And Imogen did better with the romantic/comic parts of the script than the tragic ones.  But what this production did wonderfully was to catch the gallimaulfry of genres, influences, registers, styles, and conventions Shakespeare put into this play.  It has Romans AND Italians, a beheading AND a false poisoning, a plotting queen AND an evil seducer, a successful kidnapping AND an unsuccessful rape.  Plus an on-stage battle, two scenes of raging jealousy and despair, two (or possibly three, depending on how you count) instances of mistaken identity, a flight to the green wood, an angry and unreasonable father with no political sense, misplaced or stolen love-tokens, a trunk, a trio of lost children found, all ending in forgiveness and love all around (except for the evil queen and her son, who are dead and utterly unmourned).  It's all too much--much too much--and Fiasco reveled triumphantly in its too muchness.

In the end, I was reminded of nothing so much as a kind of rarefied episode of South Park, with Cloten as Cartman and Posthumous as Kyle (or possibly Stan).  And there's nothing wrong with that.  There was even Something Important We Learned Here Tonight: 
    The power that I have on you is, to spare you;
    The malice towards you to forgive you: live,
    And deal with others better.

I can't imagine anybody dealing better with Cymbeline than the Fiasco Theatre Company.  But I'd love to see them try.


Errata: Freud's Last Session

Today I got an email from the media relations man for Freud's Last Session, saying that the play is in an open-ended run, with no plans for closing in the immediate future.   So if you're in or around the city and you love Freud, Lewis, philosophy, theology, mythology, well-crafted plays, solid acting, beautifully-decorated sets, and cool architecture, go see it.  Y'hear?

Back On My Head

OK, I'm out of excuses.  I'm well again, the house is as picked-up as it's going to get until just before Passover, and I have several hard deadlines giving me the stink-eye.  Over the next four weeks, I will:

1) Write copy and a bio and generally collect useful information so that Gavin Grant of Big Mouth House can successfully publish and promote my forthcoming late-middle-grade historical novel Freedom Maze so that it gets lots of reviews and readers and earns its considerable keep.

2)  Write an introduction to a best of Lucy Sussex collection of short stories, to be called Matilda Told Such Dreadful Lies, and published by Ticonderoga Publications later this year.  The best part of this will be squeeing (intelligently, I hope) over her series of slightly creepy doll stories, most of which are new to me, and which I love immoderately.  There's nobody who does the things with history and fiction and how the past haunts the present and imagination informs fact quite like Lucy, and that's a fact.  Huh.  I think I can use that.

3)  Clean up and post the minutes for the all-day Annual Meeting of the IAF Executive Board earlier this month, which is a perfectly easy task, except for the bits where I was talking and not taking notes and the parts where three people were talking excitedly at once (happily, I assure you) and I couldn't tell what was going on.

4)  Pull together a passably professional course description and book list for my course this summer so Hollins can order the books (and I'll be having a question to ask you Children's Lit folk out there about teachable books, so stay tuned)

5)  Finish a story I started early last summer, which I should have done by now, but I lost traction on in a big way, and now it's almost due, OMG, and I need time to rewrite it at least twice before sending it in.

Can I do all that?  Sure I can.  I better.  Somebody will be disappointed if I don't.  And I'll do just about anything to keep Somebody from being disappointed.

Here I go.