Monday, December 4, 2017 was the day that the U.K. and E.U. were to come to a temporary truce. They didn’t. Enough progress in negotiations was to have been made to, well, pass on to the next phase of negotiations. But Brexit warriors pro and con remained as frozen as Madame Tussaud’s stars and starlets. On the sunnier side, the day saw the UniBards honor the Circolo Berkeley’s invitation and bring their singular version of ‘Cymbeline’, their ‘Cimbelino’, to the charming Teatrino of the ex Convitto Palmieri. The play, a poor relation of the Shakespeare family, has been lovingly adopted and adapted by the theatre company of the University of the Salento.
The singularity of the UniBards’ take on ‘Cymbeline’ favors one of its many themes, the refusal of the “happy breed of men” to pay the tribute demanded by the distant Emperor Augustus. After a melodrama stuffed with Brits good and bad and a diabolical Roman, the recalcitrant islanders defeat the Romans in a war over the matter, but nevertheless pay up. Perhaps the Bard was so busy disentangling his plot in an all-is-forgiven happy-end finale that he forgot logic. Brexiteers will tremble at the omen.
Shakespeare knew well the “Sceptred Isle’s” haughty aloofness from the continental landmass. But like today’s Brits planning holidays, he was forever musing on the good life over the water. The UniBards favored this love-hate theme of his overstuffed vehicle. King Cymbeline egged on by a Lady Macbethish second-wife denies gold to Rome. The Little England crew had coughed up regularly to the great Julius Caesar but wouldn’t yield to his puny successor. A money squabble over the Channel--we know the story. Invasion and war came next.
Standing fast behind their four lecterns, the UniBards evoked the European fisticuffs. In a classic dramatic reading the eight stalwarts multitask with such zeal that we have to fix on their beards and flowing locks to hold on to the characters. The 17th century play interwove many strands with the proto-Brexit clash of arms and hot air. Thankfully the UniBards left out what was too ridiculous for our third millennial taste. Soothsaying, outrageous coincidences, painkillers that kill and stolen baby princes were pushed far up stage or blue-penciled. The love story remained with its two great confrontations: Credulous Posthumo in Rome-Gomorrah being convinced by the foxy Giacomo (“Italian fiend”) that Imogen his lady-love has betrayed him; and innocent Imogen (“dearest of creatures”) in confab with a servant whom Posthumo has sent to kill her for her supposed two-timing. To radiate the fire and pathos required from behind a lectern was a lot to ask of the actors.
Shakespeare’s ‘Cymbeline’ is much like a film script. The pace is headlong with abrupt cuts bringing in one local or another of the story. There is no reason why any of its many prongs shouldn’t be amputated. The only taboo would be not to exclude the fine bursts of rhetoric that even the Bard’s lesser work boast. The forty-five minute UniBard version takes this path with saucy inventions galore.
Their concocted text, ‘Cimbelino’, is a joyous hodgepodge and a translator’s nightmare. The Swan of Avon’s pipings come through at times unfiltered. But there’s also the grunting global English of cellphones. A straightforward utilitarian Italian keeps the action on track and the devilish Giacomo--brilliant idea--speaks toothsome Roman dialect, the inimitable Romanesco. A radical structural change turns the evil Queen into a voice over and mistress of ceremonies. We understand that a shift from stage to lectern needs a similar guide but regret the loss of a Brit bitch who balanced so nicely Giacomo’s Eyetie bastard.
Space is left for improvisation. Meta-text interlopers abound, including the disgruntled author. So do cute references to current ways and preoccupations, not to forget Brexit, that leaden party-pooper at any Anglo-Italian get together. But maybe youthful energy and taste for life will override whatever the graybeards of Westminster and Brussels decide. If so, the troupe of Professors Maria Luisa de Rinaldis and David Katan will be at the forefront. Each of the eight deserves another hand of applause. Take a bow Gianmarco Di Totero, Robert Katan, Ilaria Lecciso, Davide Lisi, Giordano Lisi, Francesca Quarta, Lorenzo Liaci and Fausto Pede.