AISLE SAY New York
by William Shakespeare
Directed by Mark Lamos
Starring John Cullum, Martha Plimpton,
Michael Cerveris, Phylicia Rashad, John Pankow
Vivian Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Center
150 East 65th Street
Given that Cymbeline is one of the Bard’s lesser-performed “problem plays” and that the director of its latest area mounting is Mark Lamos, a regional notable, whose NYC productions have been (in my experience) rarely better than unremarkably efficient, the production currently playing at Lincoln Center is far better than you’d expect it to be.
This odd tale (named equally oddly for a secondary character) in which both royal family and romantic loyalties are tested (at first with mercenarily falsified results), seems to have been written a bit on automatic pilot, as if Shakespeare threw in as many familiar conventions as he could in an effort to meet a deadline, or to “solve” a structure that was plaguing him by simply finishing the damn thing one way or another—and Mr. Lamos seems to have that in the back of his mind. In the tone of his production, he forthrightly confronts narrative quirks and clumsy exposition so that, rather than roll our eyes in impatience, we feel let in on the joke. Which is to say, no one’s trying to sell us a bill of goods. This isn’t great Shakespeare, but enough of it is fun Shakespeare to give us a decent evening. Not that Mr. Lamos has it played for laughs; he honors the real stakes of each situation…but he understands the value of tongue-in-cheek that doesn’t violate verisimilitude.
The ensemble is a mixed bag that ranges from stalwartly reliable (the ubiquitous Herb Foster the iconic representation of that category) to juicily engaging, and under that heading, more than a few of the leads can take their bow, among them Martha Plimpton, Phylicia Rashad, Michael Cerveris, John Pankow and John Cullum.
A must see? Not so much. A you won’t be sorry…? Much more like, if you know going in that it is what it is. Plus, it’s opulently presented and pretty to look at. Which beats being pursued by a bear. (Oh, wait, that’s The Winter’s Tale. Oh well…)