Sunday, December 16, 2007


I haven’t seen so many people leaving a performance at intermission since “Drowning Crow,” which had created a near stampede. The crowd exiting the Beaumont on Friday night wasn’t exactly a stampede, but my friend Mary Sheeran and I had plenty of company as we passed up sitting through an hour and 45 minutes more of “Cymbeline.”

As Mary said: “I’ve seen this show before.” She didn’t mean that literally, it’s just that this late play of Shakespeare’s, one of his four romances, repeats so many themes from his earlier plays that it seems familiar. It’s got lovers and a drug that mimics death -- “Romeo and Juliet” and “Antony and Cleopatra” -- a conniver who plants the seed of jealousy -- “Othello” -- and a willful father and an independent daughter -- “King Lear” -- to name a few of the been-there-done-that plots in “Cymbeline.” Of course, being a dramatic romance and not a tragedy, the outcome is different, but maybe that’s the trouble. I like the drama of those earlier plays. I’ve never cared for the romances.

It would seem others feel the same way, judging by the audience, or lack thereof. Plenty of seats were empty in the orchestra and I saw no one at all in the balcony. When you consider Lincoln Center is subscriber-based, meaning guaranteed bodies in seats, and that it was a press night, meaning all of us and our guests who wouldn’t otherwise be there, it doesn’t appear that many people chose to see “Cymbeline.” This in spite of a cast with always dependable theatre pros like Phylicia Rashad, John Cullum, Michael Cerveris and Martha Plimpton.

Unlike Mary, I had seen “Cymbeline” before, many years ago at the Delacorte. The only things I remember about it were Liev Schreiber and the mystical set, which included pools of water and lots of candles. It was no challenge to sit through it then, although not for reasons of the play. It’s just always so pleasant to be outdoors on a warm summer night, with a few stars and the moon overhead, plus a picnic first with a couple glasses of wine to mellow the mood. Those elements were missing at the Beaumont.

Too bad. The cast deserved a bigger audience, or maybe just a different play.

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