Quick -- quote something from Cymbeline. Yeah, me too. And why, when he's only in a few scenes, is it called Cymbeline? Sure, he's king of Britain, but it really should be named after Imogen, his daughter and the center of the action, a dynamic heroine in the tradition of Viola, Juliet, Helena, and Rosalind.
When director Beverly Bullock and Love Creek decided to do the complete Shakespeare canon, they were certainly aware that some of the plays are rarely performed for a reason. But this was an intelligent production that placed clarity front and center, and although some of Cymbeline's lumps are impossible to smooth out, there were the compensations of smooth, well-thought-out performances, and a seriousness that respected the play and was irony-free.
There's a lot wrong psychologically with Cymbeline, with its plot devices inserted at will, but there's some real feeling there as well. There are some similarities to, among others, All's Well That Ends Well (another Shakespeare play no one is fighting to turn into a musical), and lots of familiar bits -- woman pretending to be a man, incorrectly believed betrayed lover, banished courtiers, kidnapped children, poison that causes only the appearance of death. In fact there's as much plot as any five-act Victorian melodrama (with a length to match), but like many of those stories, this one becomes engrossing in spite of its being as overbaked as any soap opera.
So it was a good thing to be in the very capable hands of Kirsten Walsh as Imogen, Cymbeline's daughter by a previous wife, who had the fire and glow to hold the whole thing together, and the softness to make her romantic quest worth following. Geoffrey Dawe was so good and kingly as Cymbeline it was really a shame Shakespeare wasn't around to beef up the part. Vicki Weidman as the current queen had the amusing mien of a Beverly Hills matron protecting her territory, all claws in velvet gloves. (Too bad the character doesn't make it through to the end of the play.) And in a not-unusual move for Love Creek, a minor character was given a sex change to extraordinary effect -- here the physician Cornelius was transformed into Cornelia, and Joanie Schumacher gave the part a presence and warmth that helped fill in some of the play's holes. Jonathan J. Lidz was a fine villain Iachimo, and Shawn Madsen was good as the blowhard Cloten. If Peter Herrick was a little stiff as Posthumous, well, let's just say the character is not one of Shakespeare's most inspired. Nicholas Stannard played the banished Belarius (who has kidnapped and raised the king's sons as his own -- don't ask) with enough stentorian bluster for King Lear, but it worked because he walked the fine line between braggadocio and parody. And the sons (Jon Dean and Andrew D. Montgomery) were in on the gag -- in a fine, funny, character-revealing bit, they mimed Belarius's words as he told his well-worn story. Clearly they've heard it all before.
Bullock filled the stage with billowing white curtains, which served as a fine backdrop to the colorful costumes -- which gave an added oomph to the proceedings. And if a whole play's worth of untangled plots and reconciliations are unloaded in the play's final minutes (was Shakespeare discouraged by his producer from writing Cymbeline, Part II?) -- well, that's the way this cookie crumbles.
Also with Gretchen Howe, Carrie-Ann Brown, John Montague, David Heston, Marcus S. Jones, and Katherine Parks as a wonderfully droll and tart-tongued character identified only as a Lady of the Court. She deserved a name.
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Copyright 2004 David Mackler