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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at the Harvey Theater, Brooklyn Academy of Music

By Robert Cashill

Hot on the heels of the Propeller Theatre Company's well-received pairing of The Taming of the Shrew and Twelfth Night at BAM, the UK's Cheek by Jowl draws the short end of the Shakespearean stick with Cymbeline. Part of it is the fault of the Bard, who history suggests may have been amusing himself more than his audience. The narrative, loosely focused on the willful British king Cymbeline, his equally headstrong daughter Imogen, and their misadventures in love and war, is a mythic mishmash of comedy and tragedy, not easily synopsized and tough to get into. Well, they can't all be Hamlet.

Much of the blame for this sleepy showcase falls however on the company. Director Declan Donnellan has staged any number of diversionary tactics--verse performed Jersey Boys -style by the men, masked prisoners obviously alluding to Abu Gharib, a balloon drop, etc.--to draw attention from the play, which makes it that much more difficult to comprehend, much less embrace. In the first act, the actors speak their lines too softly, and are dully lit , as if Cheek by Jowl were behind in its electricity payments. Volume and illumination rise in the second act, but the level of insight remains stuck in lower gear and a severed head ends up stealing the show from the living performers. I sympathized with Imogen, who disguised as a boy , spends a few minutes after the intermission running tedious circles around the set. "The lives of men are tiring," she remarks afterwards. The lives of these men, for sure.



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