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A Singer’s Notes 133: The Bookclub Play and Shakespeare’s Cymbeline, coming up at Shakespeare and Company

Lily (Lia Russell-Self) and Alex (Morgan Morse) in The Bookclub Play

Lily (Lia Russell-Self) and Alex (Morgan Morse) in The Bookclub Play


The Bookclub Play
Karen Zacarias’s The Bookclub Play at Hubbard Hall was rather like a sporting event. There were jabs and plenty of taunting throughout the farce. Like most comedies on the edge of farce, the play moved in circles, many repetitions, the clock rolling around full circle. There was some very fine acting. Oliver Wadsworth as Will was terrific. His character was the most extreme, and his acting the most convincing, not a usual combination. The space was a little claustrophobic, but then so was the play. I call it a farce, which in many ways it is, but it was also deadly serious. How does art itself affect our lives? Do we pick out a book we like just because of the number of pages? Does what we read define us? Do we have any power to shape a great work to our own liking, our own sensibility? Why does someone like a book, after all? This play was mostly plot, and this reduced its power somewhat, but then the hijinks were wonderful. The finest achievement of the play was to take something close to farce and slowly make it moving and true. Hats off to director Kirk Jackson for making this happen.

Her mole observed, while Imogen sleeps!

Her mole observed, while Imogen sleeps!


Cymbeline

Cymbeline has long been my favorite Shakespeare conundrum. Did the Bard write it all? Will we ever know? Is it coherent in a magical way, or is it the least linear of all of Shakespeare’s plays? — maybe both. Can such a structure depend on a juvenile plan to test a girlfriend’s faithfulness? Probably not. Does the play even have a structure, since it seems to be looking forward and backward through the plot all at once? There is no resting place in Cymbeline. The famous sleep scene is actually a voyeuristic account taking special delight in a mole which appears on the heroine’s body. This comes as close to roaring laughter as it does to some profound message given to us by chaos. Perhaps it is the multiple writers thing — we don’t know. It does share the late comedies’ way of unfolding mysteries and resurrections galore. On the practical side, it may well have been one of the first plays to be played in the new Rose, a much smaller venue than the Globe, more enticing to the upper crust, not a hollering show in the Globe. That said, we know that Cymbeline was performed in the Globe. Again, my hat is off to actors who can speak in a small space as well as shout in a large, open space. My ideal weekend in London would be a performance in both venues. It would be terrific to hear how the Company made this work. Much more could be said, let me just end by expressing my thanks to Tina Packer for undertaking a new performance of this play in the upcoming season. Can’t wait to see it

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