Entertainment » Theatre

Cymbeline

by Rebecca Thomas
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Thursday Feb 16, 2012
Imogen and Posthumous (Carey Urban and David Hardie) are the young lovers at the heart of "Cymbeline."
Imogen and Posthumous (Carey Urban and David Hardie) are the young lovers at the heart of "Cymbeline."  (Source:Tony Firriolo)

"Cymbeline," one of Shakespeare's oldest and least-known plays, is a bit of a black sheep in that it seems to be a massive departure from the Bard's typical sense and style. It's almost as if he wrote the play, while intoxicated, for himself alone, and yet ended up entertaining audiences all around -- at least in his time.

Due to the show's vast complexities in scenery (often defying time and space) not to mention its "way too far down the rabbit hole," feel, it is rarely a show that is performed in any reputable theater. That said, despite the play's topsy-turvy quality and complex requirements, The Orlando Shakespeare Theater has succeeded in generating a fine production.

Interestingly enough, "Cymbeline" seems in some ways to be an amalgam of elements of all of Shakespeare's previous masterworks. We have the classic star-crossed lovers, wherein both their love is forbidden and the husband is banished. Moreover, as is the case in countless Shakespearean plays, once again the male lover proves unworthy of his female counterpart.

Also in attendance is an evil, scheming queen whose main purpose seems to be to further her own agenda. In addition, a villain drives a wedge between the lovers -- although Cymbeline's character of Iachimo is far more sedate in his scheming than previous villains, most especially Othello's Iago. There are even instances of women disguised successfully in men's clothing, long lost family members being reunited and even the appearance of the ghost of the main male character's father. This play is practically a Shakespearean stew!

That in itself is not the main problem with "Cymbeline"; rather it is that the play seems to stray further and further from a clear storyline so that only the Bard himself is capable of circling back around to right everything in the end.

Amongst the many problems and incongruities in "Cymbeline" are even the simplest elements, such as timing. The play simultaneously occurs in Ancient Britain, Renaissance Italy, and Rome under Emperor Augustus. In a single scene, the main hero, Posthumous, is being entertained in a Renaissance Italian salon wherein two Italians, a Frenchman, a Dutchman, and a Spaniard are in attendance and yet all are dressed in Roman tunics.

How can we tell it's a Renaissance salon as opposed to a wealthy Roman household? Primarily because France, Denmark, and Spain didn't yet exist in Augustinian Rome and wouldn't for several centuries yet!

Another incongruity is the gullibility of some of the main characters. First of all, Posthumous, who is supposed to be an upstanding gentleman worthy of the sublime Imogen, accepts an absurd bet put forth by Iachimo to test her faithfulness towards him -- a bet which any other true Shakespearean hero would not be so easily fooled into partaking.

Secondly, Imogen herself shows a severe lapse in judgment when confronted by Iachimo. After she has rightly condemned him for making advances on her to take revenge out on what he claims to be a cheating Posthumous by sharing a bed, she is too easily accepting of his explanation that he was only testing her on Posthumous' behalf.

Michael Raver truly captured the spotlight as Pisanio, a faithful servant to first Posthumous and then Imogen...playing out his emotions perfectly using his facial expressions and gesturing.

What's more, she agrees to keep a large trunk of supposed valuables for safekeeping in her bedroom of all places at Iachimo's request! Finally, Cymbeline himself, who is supposed to be a good and wise king, is completely taken in by the lies of his contemptuous wife who is also continually feeding him poison.

Without giving too much away, the play continually makes turn after turn until the audience cannot help but wonder how things will ever be summed up. In short, Shakespeare travels far too far down the rabbit hole before all too quickly pulling everything together in a single scene that leaves the spectators' heads spinning.

The Shakes had two advantages in producing this exceedingly complex play. First and foremost, the scenery built for "Romeo and Juliet" was already in place and so there was no need to design multiple sets to represent each place and time needed for a successful production of "Cymbeline." Instead, through the innovative use of carefully staged props, this usually very difficult task was successfully achieved.

Additionally, the same cast which is performing in "Romeo and Juliet" is on hand for the production of "Cymbeline". That makes it infinitely easier to do things like design costumes, since everyone's measurements had already been taken, arrange a rehearsal schedule that didn't overlap players or stages, and even have meetings with all of the appropriate cast and crew on hand.

As is to be expected, certain players outshined their compatriots in this production. First of all, although they did not appear until the second act, Michael Shenefelt and especially Bradford B. Frost did an exceptional job of playing the long lost sons of Cymbeline. Truly named Guiderius and Arviragus accordingly, but known to the man who stole them as Polydor and Cadwal, they captured the famed warrior spirit of the Ancient Britains while still maintaining a majesty about them that other normal men, brought up in such a brutish environment would be lacking.

Furthermore, although his part was small, Geoffrey Kent as Iachimo still had no problem drawing the rapt and amused attention of every member of the audience. Even though earlier in the review Iachimo's believably changing his story is said to be absurd (and it is), the way Kent played his character, he made it seem plausible.

Interestingly enough, I found that certain players shined brighter in their character performances in "Cymbeline" than they did in "Romeo and Juliet." In particular I must mention Michael Raver. He is doing a good job of playing Romeo in The Shakes current production of "Romeo and Juliet," but he truly captured the spotlight as Pisanio, a faithful servant to first Posthumous and then Imogen. In this role, not only did he play out his emotions perfectly, but also often in silence, by using his facial expressions and gesturing, he was more captivating than the main speaking characters.

It would be totally unfair to end this review without mentioning the masterful performance of Brandon Roberts as the almost cartoonishly villainous son of the queen, Cloten. Adding a stutter and a bravado to make his character all the more ridiculous, Roberts created a character for whom, were he not so incredibly rude and boorish, the audience might almost be compelled towards compassion. Roberts was indisputably the star of the evening.

Three and a half out of five stars for a production that was brilliantly executed by the cast and crew despite the play's often difficult to follow (yes, even for Shakespeare) storyline.

"Cymbeline" runs through March 18 at The Orlando Shakespeare Theater, 812 E Rollins St. in Orlando. For info or tickets, visit the //orlandoshakes.org/: The Orlando Shakespeare Theater’s website.

Rebecca Thomas is a freelance writer and photographer in the Orlando area who has worked as an independent contractor for several media outlets over the years, including but not limited to: U.S. News & World Report, The World Picture Network (WpN) and Aurora Photos. She has a BA from Cornell University in Anthropology and History. She enjoys fluffy dogs, Starbucks seasonal coffee blends, and promoting the advancement of LGBT and other causes through her writing and reviews.


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