All The World’s A Stage. Staunton. Days 1-3.

Summer Shakespeare trip, take two! We are restarting the clock at days 1-3

Finally recovered from my mysterious illness, rental car in my possession full of granola bars and trail mix, I left Richmond Saturday morning headed for Staunton.

I found a wonderful host on Couchsurfing.com and met up with her to get the keys to her beautiful house right around the corner from the ASC and spent the afternoon wandering around town until the heat got the better of me and I went back to relax in the air conditioning.

 

A Ballad to His Mistress’ Eyebrow

 

I went to the Saturday evening show of As You Like It which just opened. With a brain free of migraines and a stomach free of nausea, I was much more able to appreciate the production than on my previous trip.

As You Like It is my favorite comedy, there’s something about the fairy tale nature of its minimal plot, bucolic setting, and playful heroine that sets me at ease in the way that I want a comedy to. All of the problems with the play from a structural standpoint: the stacks of improbable resolutions to ostensibly insurmountable difficulties, the lack of any real dramatic tension, they amuse rather than distress me.

The production was bright and delightful, with a fun early 20th century vibe for the costumes, with Touchstone’s motley suit and top hat being the visual highlight for me. The whole cast put in consistent, engaging performances, but I absolutely adored Orlando, played with enough melancholy to capture the misfortune of his circumstance without falling into the trap of being an unsympathetic sadsack. I should also point out that old shepherd, Corin, was played with such a hilarious slow deadpan that I found myself wishing that he had a bigger role.

Rosalind and Orlando had a fun chemistry, but Rosalind and Celia’s friendship popped just a bit more. Celia’s bit of sassy, silly pragmatism was perfectly timed as a foil Rosalind’s overeager romantic idealism. I would love to see this Celia in a more central role in the future, like a Beatrice.

I did feel like there were places where the audience could have been engaged a bit more. After having seen such an engaging Macbeth and Taming of the Shrew my last time in town, I wanted actors in my face a bit more in this show, but perhaps that’s just me. I enjoy the universal lighting and generally want that audience-actor dynamic cranked up to eleven. But it’s still early in the run so if they decide they want more of that, there’s plenty of time for the actors to find places to add a bit more play into the play.

 

Fear No More the Heat o the Sun

 

When I went to the ASC for As You Like It, I saw a poster for a production of Cymbeline by the Mary Baldwin Theatre department in the window the very next day. I adore Cymbeline, it’s in my top ten for sure and I was totally unaware of that production, so it was serendipitous that it was playing while I was in Staunton and that I saw the poster.

A lot of people hate Cymebeline, and it gets overshadowed by virtue of being part of those late romances dominated inexplicably by The Tempest. Despite having one of the most engaging and interesting heroines in the canon along with some hilarious comedy and a couple great action sequences, people fault the play for “flaws” that they let slide in other plays. Most often, people disparage the play for having so many recycled elements: cross-dressing, sleeping potion that makes you seem dead, &c. But they don’t disparage any other plays for recycling, so it seems arbitrary to fault Cymbeline for simply being at the end of Shakespeare’s career and therefore having more previous material to recycle from. Frequently, hatred of Cymbeline seems to come from folks more eager to be plot-focused contrarians than people looking at the most interesting and beautiful elements in Shakespeare.

The Mary Baldwin production was good overall. They made amazing use of the space and managed to do a lot with very little. It was staged outdoors, in the garden of one of the old brick buildings on campus. They had a ledge and several walls, some stairs, and a couple of hedges to play on, in addition to the grass, and managed to do so much with a few sticks and some boxes. As young students, they could add a lot of physicality into the show, jumping from the ledge, climbing over the walls, a lot of things that might make veteran actors concerned about their joints. It was great and pulled the whole environment into the show. The fights were strong and exciting, and the ingenious use of the trunk with a whole for a head to display the decapitated body of Cloten was really fun.

Even with a few flubbed lines, the show was engaging up until the last scene. Cymbeline is a long play — the third longest in the canon — and like Hamlet, needs to be cut viciously to make it work on the stage. I’m a purist when it comes to reading Shakespeare, but I like a production to move along quickly, even if it’s at the expense of some of the text. So even as an enormous Cymbeline fan, I was a bit impatient when the show ran just over 2:45 and we were mostly just listening to the actors because the sun had gone down and it was too dark to see them anymore.

All of that aside, it really was a fun show. Ryan, who played Posthumus and Cloten was the standout for me, managing to give each character enough of a distinct voice and demeanor that even with minimal or no wardrobe change it was clear which character we were dealing with. Imogen was compelling, sympathetic but strong, and I especially loved her chemistry with her two brothers the kidnapped princes, the two of which were also wonderful throughout.

I’m packing up the car now to hit the road to Cincinnati to visit friends and see their production of Midsummer Night’s Dream. I’ll check in from Cincy in a couple days y’all!