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A CurtainUp Review
By Zoe Erwin-Longstaff
Corneille's couple is stubborn, petulant, and downright cranky — in short, emotionally accessible to a modern sensibility. Thus, when our hero, Don Rodrigue, chooses to defend his father's honor rather than sparing the life of his sweetheart's sire, she is understandably pissed off, and doesn't let him or us forget it. Hence, in large part, the enduring appeal of this famously controversial play. It deals with the themes of how young lovers can overcome their ire, find happiness in each other, and incidentally avoid a grisly Romeo-and-Juliette fate.
As for the controversy surrounding Le Cid's first appearance in 1636, it was not so much the play's content that offended but the gall of the upstart Corneille thumbing a proverbial nose at the L'Academie Francaise. In particular, it was his flouting of L' Academie's dictates governing the unity of time, place and location in classic drama that rankled.
While, I heard about this game-changer of a play as a footnote in theater courses and the like, this has been my first opportunity to see the play performed. Let me say straightaway that I was not disappointed.
The Storm Company has done a splendid job of setting the mood. The makeshift theater which is actually in the gloomy basement of The Church of Notre Dame on 114th Street, is intimate, yet appropriately uninviting, with Gregorian chants filling the small room.
The production does have its problems. It get off to a plodding start, owing to the occasionally soggy diction of the opening scene, which features Meaghan Bloom Fluitt, who plays the fair Chimene (in the Juliette role) and Cheri Paige Foglemans her lady-in-waiting. Adding to the problem in this scene, they gesticulate and mug a little too cartoonishly , as if the simple dialogue (written in verse no less) would be lost on the audience without them simultaneously miming it.
Luckily, the shaky start is not indicative of the subsequent two hours As the rest of the cast is introduced we are drawn into the drama.
jeff king playing Le Cid, is a young Hugh Dancy-type, valiant and charming. He and the other actors play off each other well and do a commendable job of using the space effectively, despite the theater-in-the-round's making the fight choreography clunky.
While I wasn't entirely charmed by her at first, Jessica Zinder, playing the Infanta of Castile has a particularly riveting scene in which she overcomes her own longings and steps aside to let Chimene and Don Rodrigue’s love flourish. Her foil, Leonore, (Jessica Levesque) unites an austere presence with a commanding voice in a way that grounds the excitable princess. Ultimately, hers is the most consistent performance in what is, on balance, a strong cast.
Is Le Cid beyond its landmark status as a turning point in theatre history, still worth performing? Don't expect to see it mounted on Broadway any time soon. But it is one of the minor glories of New York theater that a production, such as this one by Storm, can render this classic so pleasurably accessible.
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