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By Glenn Loney, October 1998--Part One

Richard Strauss'
Janice Wilson as the beautiful Arabella with Mary Sills as Zdenka (disguided as Boy) in the current San Francisco production of Richard Strauss' opera, "Arabella" (photo: Morty Sohl). See #4.
[01] Opera Season in San Francisco
[02] Andre Previn's "Streetcar Named Desire"
[03] David Hockney's Towering "Turandot"
[04] An Adorable "Arabella"
[05] Ping Chong's "Kwaidan" at LaMaMa
[06] Stravinsky's "Firebird" at New Victory
[07] Tübingen's "Flamingo Bar"
[08] Greek National Theatre's "Medea"
[09] Last "Cymbeline" of Summer

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Opera Season in San Francisco

Even years ago—when the San Francisco Opera season consisted of a scant three weeks in the autumn—its opening was The Social Event. Its glitter and glamour reflected a diminished glory on all the other cultural openings of the fall—whether at the theatre, the ballet, or the art-museums.

It even upstaged the august San Francisco Symphony, under Pierre Monteux. At that time, both the Opera and the Symphony shared the War Memorial Opera House.

This imposing Beaux-Arts monument was contemplated before the 1929 Crash, but completed in 1931, as the Great Depression was setting in for a long run. So, for several decades, the opera-season was of [economic] necessity, embarrassingly brief.

The Symphony, on the other hand, could attract crowds well into the spring. Major ballet companies and large-scale musicals on tour were also booked into this handsome music-theatre.

Although almost 100 years younger than some of Europe's most beautiful and music-friendly opera-houses, San Francisco's War Memorial is certainly one of the most impressive in the world today.

Its vaulted great-hall foyer, with its grand chandeliers, is an elegant space which invites the intermission promenades of elegantly dressed opera-lovers and society-leaders.

The world premiere of Sir Andre Previn's musical setting of Tennessee Williams' great American drama, "A Streetcar Named Desire," proved an even more powerful magnet for the Rich & Famous and the Hollywood & New York Culture Celebrities.

With a fine sense of the real importance of this premiere, both the San Francisco Chronicle and the SF Examiner devoted even more space to the Glitterati than to their critics' analyses of the new opera in conception and in performance.

Granted, the space was largely taken up with full-color photos of local socialites and their guests, but there was fairly breathless text to match.

“Streetcar” on Van Ness Avenue—
Blanche Du Bois Sings at Last!

Streetcar Named Desire at San Francisco Opera House
Susannah Glanville as Blanche and Peggy Kriha Dye as Stella in "Streetcar Named Desire" at San Francisco Opera House
(photo: Morty Sohl)
San Franciso's major music-critics did not outdo themselves, searching for adjectives with which to properly praise Andre Previn's "Streetcar" score or Philip Littell's fairly faithful libretto of this American tragedy.

In fact, both Joshua Kosman—of the "Chronicle"—and Allan Ulrich—of the "Examiner"—seemed determined to find some kind things to say about both the work and the execution of it.

The acute and often acerbic Ulrich opened his review by noting a misgiving which had formed in the minds of many music critics and opera-lovers, when it was first announced that Andre Previn intended to turn Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire" into an opera.

As he wrote: "Setting the great American tragedy of mid-century—and a tragedy that, unfortunately, for the neophyte, 69-year-old composer, carries its own dark music like a totem—is an act that seems both courageous and foolhardy.

"And inviting a substantial complement of the world press and a major record company to observe and preserve the results appeared almost an act of defiance."

Even Bernard Holland—the "New York Times" reviewer—chose his words very carefully, in describing those results. He was especially careful in appraising the performance of the widely admired Renée Fleming as Blanche Du Bois.

Perhaps it's my good fortune not to have been there on opening-night. I saw and heard the Second Team, and they were very good—both as actors and singers. With such already Iconic Performances as Brando's Stanley and the Blanches of Jessica Tandy and Vivian Leigh, it is not easy to recreate these powerful roles—even without having to sing Williams' already musical text.

Susannah Glanville was wistfully elegant and desperate as Blanche. Her suggestion of a fragile, disappointed, defeated Southern Belle, descending into madness, was deeply moving.

She was also aptly irritating, as she imposed her own fanciful moods and needs on her worried sister Stella—and on Stella's irate, erotic lover-husband Stanley, in their ratty two-room rental in the Elysian Fields of New Orleans.

As Stella—who seems in the play a minor figure, caught between two powerful and passionate egos—Peggy Kriha Dye wonderfully and tenderly embodied a more complex personality.

Torn between her affection for her sister and her passion for her earthy husband, in the opera she becomes more of a buffer—a guilty, baffled intermediary—between Stanley and Blanche.

David Ockerlund—who succeeded Rodney Gilfry as Stanley Kowalski—proved a very strong and believably primitive sexual-presence in this now almost Totemic Role of Male Potency. He is a big, handsome, muscled hunk—especially with his shirt off—and he moves with an almost animal fluidity and energy.

His strong baritone and his able acting made his Stanley most compelling. So it is a real loss that Littell and Previn did not provide Stanley with at least one major aria.

One reviewer suggested that Stanley is the kind of rough, working-class guy who wouldn't have anything to do with arias anyway. But that misses the point: in the thick of the action, the character is hardly aware that he's also in the middle of an opera.

In fact, Stanley's repeated angry outbursts about Blanche demand at least one aria—perhaps a culmination of his rage at the way she has deceived him and Stella and invaded and altered their lives.

The discovery of the loss of Belle Reve, her endless pre-emption of the bathroom, her fancy manners and flirtatiousness, her lies about her sordid past in Laurel, Mississippi: all of these could justify a potent manly aria of anger, frustration, or fury.

And when he finally drives her over the edge into madness, when he dons his red-silk pajamas and effectually rapes her in his marriage-bed, a powerful aria—before he seizes the pathetic, defenseless Blanche—could well be the dramatic prelude to what follows in sudden blackout.

Jay Hunter Morris sang and acted a most decent and appealing Mitch. If Stanley did not seem to deserve an aria in this score, Mitch has been given one that Morris delivers with sincerity. The fact that it is a collection of banalities about love—censured by the Chronicle's Kosman—makes it just right for a man of Mitch's limitations and perceptions.

One operatic expansion of Williams' original text that is needlessly intrusive is the brief moment in the drama when a street-seller of flowers for the dead passes by. "Flores para los Muertos" becomes a major symbolic event, the significance of which is heavily underlined.

It is highlighted both in the score and the staging, whereas in the play, it is a kind of mysterious, haunting refrain, which drifts away on the night air. Leaving the audience to make their own connections between it and Blanche's fate.

I mean it as a special compliment when I say that San Francisco's second cast of "Streetcar" would provide a powerful theatre-experience even if they only acted the text. Without Previn's obviously thoughtful score.

Many critics—who have already had their say, based on their premiere-experience—have noted that there are many admirable musical moments and themes in Previn's new "Streetcar." But the consensus seems to be that nothing is really musically memorable.

That no one aria or duet stands out. That some attractive and interesting themes are introduced, but not further developed.

Stella has at least one powerful aria, and Blanche has several affecting arias.

But it may well be—as with some other notable operas which were severely criticized or outright dismissed at their premieres—that Previn's "Streetcar" needs to stay on the tracks for some time. Or even switch to other lines and other opera-houses. Until audiences and critics come to know it better.

That few leave the War Memorial Opera House humming operatic gems from "Streetcar" is no indicator of failure. This score may "grow" on opera-fans over the years.

The San Francisco production will be issued on CDs. Other productions in the United States and abroad are already being planned.

The initial problem remains. That is quite simply that Williams' poetic drama already has its own music.

Williams, of course, was no Shakespeare—whose poetic plays are even more resistant to operatic adaptation—but his "Streetcar" doesn't need more accompaniment than some moody background music.

What's surprising about Previn's score is that there isn't more of the jazzy, funky sound of New Orleans. When he does key a musical moment to the text, it often sounds embarrassingly like a deliberate attempt to illustrate an already powerful line or emotion with notes.

And, as is all too often the case with new operas, too much of the hallowed Williams text is "set to music" in the manner of glorified recitative. Rather than further developed into specific musical forms.

This makes Williams' already poetically, metaphorically distanced reality seem merely deliberately artificial. Stanley, the hunk, the worker, the animal, the primitive sings?

Why? Why would a guy like Stanley want to sing about Blanche tying up the bathroom when he wants to pee?

With all Previn's long experience in Hollywood—providing background musical scores for major films—the score for "Streetcar" could have been at least more memorable.

His familiarity with great modern composers is, however, certainly demonstrated. Snatches of Strauss—Richard, not Johann, Weill, Barber, Shoshtakovitch, and maybe even Mahler seem to float by.

Director Colin Graham seems to have managed to preserve some of the dimly remembered effect of the stage-movement of the original production. But, if compared scene-by-scene, it would now be seen to be different, newly adapted to Michael Yeargan's moody, skeletal, pivoting settings.

But even Yeargan's balcony-railings of intricately-patterned and delicate cast-iron balusters seem to evoke the original setting, while actually being his own creation. Not a copy.

Thomas Munn's moody lighting proves very effective in enhancing the powers of the play and the music.

The ultimate test for the Previn-Littell "Streetcar"—especially for those who have seen it in performance more than once—will be whether they'd rather see the play than the opera, given a choice of first-class productions of each.

An immediate test will be how soon it returns to the stage of the War Memorial Opera House. Will General Director Lotfi Mansosuri revive it next season? Will he wait for the Millennium?

Will Renée Fleming want sing this role again—after the reviews she got the first time out?

She is a real trouper—and she's probably already contracted to sing Blanche elsewhere—so that's not even a question worth asking.

Just because "Carmen" and "Madama Butterfly" were deemed failures at their premieres proved no reason for sopranos to refuse future engagements in those roles.

Towering “Turandot”

The frigid Princess Turandot, interpreted by Gabriele Schnaut for San Francisco Opera
(photo: Morty Sohl)
David Hockney's vision of Puccini's "Turandot" is a toy-theatre pop-up-book delight. Basic elements of traditional Chinese architecture have been made even more elemental.

A few slanted vivid red walls, topped or edged with some skewed sections of green tiled roof, a quaint Mandarin tower or two. That's all that's needed to set the stage for the first act.

For centuries the Chinese have loved brilliant red as the color of Good Fortune and Prosperity. So Hockney has used it brightly and liberally, with the strong contrast of an equally vivd green.

Later scenes develop this simplification and abstraction of historic Chinese structures and decorations, including a modified Moon Bridge. When Ping, Pang, and Pong recall their distant homes, a glowing scroll with brush-strokes of nature is even enhanced with a model of a home.

Ian Falconer's equally elemental costumes—with traditionally delicate decorations enlarged to bold asymmetrical forms, almost like late Matisse cut-outs—complement this storybook effect.

As does Thomas Munn's lighting, which ranges from bright bold colors to subtle misty shades.

The problem with some of the scenes—not unusual when planar artists design for the theatre—is the limited, even awkward, acting space and levels made possible by the set-elements. Sometimes, in such cases, the spaces are quite impossible.

Hockney has of course designed for the opera-theatre before—notably for Stravinsky's "Rake's Progress" and Mozart's "Magic Flute." He has a very original way of conceptualizing operas which have threatened to drown in tradition.

But, especially in the initial scene, he doesn't provide enough stage-space for movement of chorus and principals. They are pushed too far downstage or marooned on a small raked side-ramp.

When the black-clad chorus of Pekinese is onstage, clamoring for a beheading, they look like a wall of indistinguishable black posts. Had Hockney provided some broad stairs, ramps, or platforms, they would have had at least several levels on which to deploy themselves.

Or director Garnett Bruce could simply have put fewer of them downstage. And let the rest sing behind the set-walls, for they do sing offstage later on, to haunting effect in the night in which no one sleeps.

There is an art to arranging and moving crowds of chorus and extras on opera-stages. Even if a director regards him or herself as only a glorified traffic-cop, it is still possible to choreograph natural or ritual movements which won't look like static crowd-scenes.

Fortunately, the colorful pageantry devised here for Count Carlo Gozzi's quaint legend of Turandot—as reworked by Friedrich Schiller and Puccini's librettists—is generally so interesting that the awkwardness of the crowd-scenes dissolves in the pomp of Imperial Processions.

Gabriele Schnaut, as the cruel Ice-Princess Turandot, looked lavishly regal and acted imperiously. Unfortunately, her tone was not as pure, powerful, or sustained as is necessary for her cold indifference to the sufferings of her doomed suitors to be both thrilling and chilling for much of the evening.

She can certainly sing the role powerfully, but this time she seemed strained. Perhaps her recent potent Munich Elecktras have unduly taxed her voice?

In contrast, Andrea Dankova's Liu was marvelously liquid in tone and phrasing. Sacrificing oneself for hopeless love seems to bring out the best in lyric sopranos.

Richard Margison's Calaf was strongly sung—and "Nessun dorma" was cheered to the proverbial echo. He is, however, a stocky figure, hardly romantic enough in appearance and manner to melt the frozen resolve of Turandot.

Gozzi, Schiller, and Puccini obviously knew nothing of Freud's researches into feminine frigidity. That Calaf's courage, daring, cleverness, and passion would be enough to turn a murderous virago into a melting maiden says much about their macho view of the War Between the Sexes.

Turandot's fury—fueled by the angry spirit of her long-dead, sexually violated, and brutally murdered ancestress—would be quite enough today to make her a charter-member in any Lesbian Act-Up group in either San Francisco or New York. If not in Beijing.

Earle Patriarco, Dennis Petersen, and Matthew Lord were most animated and amusing as the officers of the Imperial Court. Joseph Frank was properly ancient and catatonic as the Emperor of China, powerless to curb his daughter's murderous Quiz Game.

The opening performance of San Francisco's "Turandot"—conducted by Marco Armiliato—was dedicated to the late and much lamented Leonie Rysanek. A very great lady—who was anything but icy in her relations with colleagues, press, and public—and a great artist as well!

Adorable “Arabella”

Richard Strauss'
Laura Claycomb as the Exuberant Fiakrmilli, riding the golden chair of Mandryka played by Franz Grundheber, in San Francisco Light Opera's production of Strauss' "Arabella" (photo: Morty Sohl).
On seeing the San Francisco Opera's current production of Richard Strauss' "Arabella," I had a sudden attack of déjà vu. It looked like an old friend, a little more dusty and worn than when last seen—at the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, from which it was borrowed.

But then Hugo von Hofmannsthal's impoverished aristocrats, the Waldners, are living in a fairly seedy Viennese hotel. From which they must depart for non-payment of their bills.

They are so needy that their younger daughter, Zdenka, has grown up disguised as a boy. They can only afford to launch their beautiful elder child, Arabella, in Vienna Society.

Count Waldner—an incorrigible gambler and a constant loser—has sent a photo of Bella to an old army comrade. Even if she has to marry a much older man, at least the Count will be able to pay his bills and continue playing cards for money.

But it's not his old Croatian fellow-officer who arrives at their hotel. Just in the fabled Nick of Time.

This Mandryka is the rough but imperious nephew who has inherited all the family estates. He has fallen in love with Arabella's photo and intends to marry her.

This final collaboration of Von Hofmannsthal and Strauss echoes their hugely successful "Der Rosenkavalier" in some aspects. In that luxurious evocation of Baroque and Imperial Vienna, the suitor, Baron Ochs, is also a rich, bumptious rustic, unused to the ways of polite society.

And, whereas Zdenka is a girl dressed as a boy, Octavian, in "Rosenkavalier," is a soprano dressed as a young man, who later disguises himself as a girl.

There is certainly some ravishing music in "Arabella," but it is no "Rosenkavalier."

And its varied charms—which still appeal so strongly to Central European audiences—do not seem to entrance Americans in the same way. If at all, for some regard it as outdated as the operettas of the other Strausses.

Janice Watson was a radiant Arabella, beautiful in motion and repose, and blessed with a fine voice. Even more impressive vocally was Mary Mills as her tomboy sister—desperately in love with one of Arabella's spurned suitors, Matteo [David Kuebler].

As a somewhat stocky and gauche Mandryka, Franz Grundheber was making his SF Opera debut. As was the at times inaudible Donald McIntyre—long a favorite abroad—here a white-haired Count Waldner.

Judith Forst was charming and amusing as the doting, anxious mother, Countess Waldner.

Laura Claycomb was high-spirited as the Fiakrmilli, sweetheart of the annual Coachmen's Ball. Her aria was a high point of an otherwise awkward ball-scene.

This virtual museum-piece was staged by David Edwards and designed by Peter Rice. Donald Runnicles conducted with that old Viennese Schlag.

Master Puppet-Masters—

Thank you, Jim Henson!

And not just for the Muppets and Miss Piggy.

Departed though you are, you are still with us in spirit and benefactions! Your Jim Henson Foundation deserves a lot of thanks for sponsoring New York's International Festival of Puppet Theatre.

This wonderful program of international puppet and marionette ensembles—with some memorable productions far beyond conventional kiddie-shows—has proved an excellent showcase for some impressive innovations in story-telling and design.

As recently scheduled, it now either ends the New York summer season. Or it heralds the onrush of the fall theatre season, with some shows which would be hard to top, even with live actors.

For those who usually leave the heat and humidity of Manhattan for the entire summer, next year it would be a good idea to come back early enough to enjoy all the productions which will be on view.

Ping Chong’s “Kwaidan” at LaMaMa Annex

Puppet character in "Kwaidan" at La MaMa
Adapted from Lafcadio Hearn's retellings of Japanese ghost-stories bearing the same title, the three tales Ping Chong has chosen for "Kwaidan" are distinctively different. And this inventive master of arts and theatre has given each quite distinctive and unusual visualizations.

In the newly remodeled and restored LaMaMa Annex—at $3 million—the puppet-plays are performed in a special Japanese stage-framework. This permits very wide, but vertically narrow, scenic disclosures—which use a variety of astonishing design-techniques.

Even for those who think they hate puppets, the way in which these stories have been realized by Ping Chong is so attractive and effective, it is worth making the effort to see them whenever and wherever they may be on view.

In fact, it would verge on an artistic crime if the LaMaMa engagement is the only time they are to be seen. Not only should they appeal to theatre-designers and technicians and adult audiences, they certainly could also astound younger viewers.

Despite the efforts of parents and legislators to protect children from Sex and Violence—not to mention raw terror—kids delight in horror-stories and being scared out of their wits.

In the first tale, an old monk helps free a flesh-eating demon—a Jikininki—from the curse that has prevented his spirit from finding peace.

In the second, Miminashi Hoichi," a young monk is barely saved from destruction when he sings in the dead of night to a gathering of long-dead warriors—in a cemetery which looks to him like an ancient Japanese Samurai Court.

The final tale, "The Story of O-Tei," reunites a pair of lovers—long after the death of the young woman. Her endlessly mourning young man grows older, and, after many years, he suddenly finds her again in the body of a pert young MacDonald's counter-girl.

Ping Chong's visualization of this fable—and of Japanese Big Mac customers—is both hilarious and touching.

Stravinsky’s “Firebird” at the New Victory

A ravishing show of sound-and-light was recently on view at the New Victory on the New 42. This was the Teatro Gioco Vita's vital production of Igor Stravinsky's "L'Oiseau de Feu."

But this was not a dancing-puppet version of the famed ballet.

The mysterious old Russian tale of Ivan Tsarevitch and the enchantments of the evil magician Kastchei was retold in a series of swirling abstract streams and showers of color.

Ivan, the glittering Firebird, the magician, and the beautiful women he had imprisoned were all depicted with almost cartoonish translucent two-dimensional shadow-puppets.

The horrendous mask of the magician—thanks to moving light-sources—grew so immense it filled the entire backstage cyc.

With a scaffold, some sheets of cloth, backlights and spotlights, and the hand-held puppets, Massimo Arbafello and Mauro Sarino—assisted by Antonella Enrietto—kept visual pace with the ever swirling, changing pulse of Stravinsky's pounding score.

Enrico Baj designed the color-spectacle and the puppets. Federico Marzaroli's lighting was crucial to their success.

If you have the opportunity to see this production, at home or abroad, do not miss it! It is of a spectacular beauty and passion. And it enhances the story and score, rather than being a puppet-reduction of them.

Tübingen’s “Flamingo Bar”

Flamingo Bar at La MaMa
"Flamingo Bar" at La MaMa
Another Henson International Puppet Festival treat was Frank Soehnle's unusual performance-collage, "Flamingo Bar," at LaMaMa. Coming from the ancient German university city of Tübingen, Soehnle's ensemble calls itself figuren theater.

The centerpiece of this strange, almost hermetic, performance-piece was a large, mournful marionette with a tail of peacock feathers. It looked to me like a Prima Ballerina, past her best years but still savoring the attentions of adoring fans.

None of them—also marionettes, deftly manipulated by Soehnle—really interested her, desperately as they tried to get her attention or favor.

Later, I read in the Village Voice—which surely must be able to recognize the difference between male and female puppets—that this curious construction was really masculine.

Man or Woman, dancer or skeleton, this figure didn't even respond to the charming dance-maneuvers of a pair of flamingos.

Very effective were those moments when Soehnle became part of a puppet trying to win the vain peacock's attention. His hand manipulated a skull-like head and his legs—under a quasi-skirt—became those of the puppet.

Best of all were the interludes in which he sat in a section of theatre-seats with a dog-head protruding from a white cloth. This improvised puppet was clearly an opera-freak.

The two of them enjoyed a recorded performance of "Tosca" to such an extent that the devastated doggie almost seemed to die from the passion of it all.

Classics & Neo-Classics—

Karyofyllia Karabeti’s Medea

National Theater of Greece
If the productions imported from Athens and Epidaurus by the National Theatre of Greece continue to be as innovative and passionate as last season's, and the recent staging of Euripides' "Medea," these should become an annual enrichment to the New York theatre season.

Karyofyllia Karabeti's dynamic interpretation of the wronged barbarian princess, Medea, was most impressive. Even without the added blessing of Supertitles, her majestic and incantory declamation of her lines was riveting.

As was the thrilling chanting and choreographed movement of the Chorus, at times entrapped in an elastic barrier of white cloth strips. These suggested not only the poisoned garments which engulfed Jason's new young bride, Creusa, in devilish flames.

But they also visually evoked the confinements of the rigid social order of a Greece of Pre-History and Legend. In which masters dominated slaves; men dominated women, and kings had absolute power over their subjects.

Niketi Kontouri staged this powerful drama in Yorgos Patsas' abstract and effective setting. Instead of using two mute child-actors, Medea's children were shown in a two-headed puppet-construction.

Having urged a friend to see this production during its all-too-short New York appearance, I was surprised that she promptly rejected the suggestion. She said she didn't want to see an old play about a woman with a head full of snakes.

But, fortunately, Medea was not Medusa. Whose Gorgon's Head of writhing snakes could turn a man to stone.

Medea, of course, managed to devastate Jason by killing his two sons. Almost as effective.

The Last “Cymbeline” of Summer

Serban's "Cymbeline" in Central Park
To have seen three productions of Shakespeare's "Cymbeline" in as many months may be devotion to theatre beyond the call of duty. On the other hand, that simply would not have been possible in most theatre-seasons since the Bard first wrote it.

Years ago, when Henry Hewes—then drama critic for the "Saturday Review of Literature"—and I had seen four different stagings of "Pericles" in the same summer, he noted that the great critics of the 19th century had not even seen one.

"Cymbeline" is certainly a problematic play to stage, with a strange undertone of mystery, legend, and morality. Its inclusion of a Renaissance Masque—evoking pre-Christian rituals involving Jupiter and his Eagle—make it even more complicated than already required by its several intersecting plots.

The best of this summer's trio of "Cymbelines" was Andrei Serban's beautiful and haunting staging in the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park. This was not only visually magical—using the park-backgrounds of lake, trees, and the Belvedere to great effect—but it was also compelling in its interpretations of human ambitions, passions, and foolishness.

The use of a semi-circular moat of water—separating the stage from the summer Shakespeare Festival audience—may have reminded viewers that the action was taking place on the Island Kingdom of Roman Britain. It also added the ceremonial element of Water, to those of Fire, Air, and Earth.

Michael Chybowski's wonderfully inventive lighting increased the suggestive versatilities of Mark Wendland's green and sandy hillock unit-set, with its real trees.

Spotlights not only illuminated the stage, but they also shone through green gels and tree-leaves toward the spectators, to bask them in the greenness of a magical Nature.

It is most unlikely that this production would be revived next summer in the park. But it could certainly be recreated out-of-doors elsewhere.

Perhaps in Ashland? Or in Serban's distant, exotic, troubled Bucharest—where he was not so long ago Artistic Director of the Roumanian National Theatre?

If George Wolfe and Serban do decide to recreate it in one of the spaces of the New York Public Theatre, it couldn't have the same woodsy magic that it had in Central Park.

But, because the staging, casting, and the playing were so effective, even with a somewhat different stage-environment, the play in performance would remain a powerful experience.

Margaret Croydon has already commented in some detail on this production in this venue, but I did want to record my own admiration for it as well.

Only the month before, I had seen an hilarious staging by Dieter Dorn, in Munich's Kammerspiele. And the month before that, I saw the Royal Shakespeare's rather limp production at BAM. Had I gone to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, that would have made a quartet of "Cymbelines."

The best element of the RSC's poorly cast production was the interpretation of Clothen, the booby-villain of the play. This character was also a highlight in Munich, where he seemed something of an Anti-Hamlet.

Some experts—comparing the Central Park Clothen with the Royal Shakespeare's—gave Serban's preening, if retarded, fool low marks.

In fact, he was rather amusing, a refreshing change from seeing this actor play government dweebs in Hollywood films. [Loney]

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Copyright © Glenn Loney 1998. No re-publication or broadcast use without proper credit of authorship. Suggested credit line: "Glenn Loney, New York Theatre Wire." Reproduction rights please contact: jslaff@nytheatre-wire.com.

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