BWW Reviews: Theatreworks' Trippy CYMBELINE
What to make of William Shakespeare's Cymbeline, a curious mix of comedy and tragedy (with a bit of historical-esque war action thrown in for spice) whose plot and character list reads like a hodgepodge of the playwright's earlier work (the exiled hero, the lady falsely accused of infidelity, the scheming queen, mistaken identities, mistaken deaths, and more)? Victorian audiences lauded the virtuous heroine Imogen, while George Bernard Shaw considered the whole thing an ungodly mess. In his director's notes, Murray Ross bluntly suggests (pun not intended) that Shakespeare may have been smoking pot when he wrote it. Looking at the play's mélange of British royalty, Roman legionnaires, Italian courtiers and Welsh rustics-a chaotic mix of anachronisms even by the standard of Shakespeare's fast-and-loose approach to historical accuracy-it's easy to believe controlled substances were involved in its creation.
To me, Cymbeline smells not of marijuana smoke but of self-parody, a late-in-life admission by the Bard to all the absurdity and oddity inherent in his craft. After all, he suggests, how could infants of noble lineage be so easily stolen from their cradles, and concealed well into adulthood? Why would a husband so readily take the loss of one of his wife's easily misplaced personal effects as proof of adultery? What kind of self-respecting doctor would give poisonous substances to someone so obviously bent on mischief? The characters of Cymbeline are distorted funhouse mirrors of Shakespeare's tragic heroes and heroines: quick in their passions, too easily inclined to violent gestures, and ever flinging themselves into increasingly extraordinary and complex situations.
Whether it's a wink of the eye or a toke of the joint, Ross and his players have fun with Cymbeline; even an unscheduled pause as an unusually forceful bout of rain drowned out the actors' voices couldn't dampen spirits for very long. They take the tangled plot threads and run with them, culminating in a hilarious climax where the denouements pile up like the crashing police cars in The Blues Brothers. Costume designer Roselaine Fox likewise embraces the anachronistic nature of the tale, creating a collage of styles ranging from Roman cloaks to modern hoodies. Nothing is taken too seriously, which isn't to say that nothing is taken seriously at all-there is genuine pathos in the despair of Imogen (Susan Maris), and in the tender reunions which shine through the convoluted resolution.
While some of the supporting players don't quite seem comfortable wrapping their tongues around Shakespeare's language, the leads easily navigate the dialogue and in some cases, navigate sharp changes in character as well. Nick Henderson shifts effortlessly between the roles of Imogen's noble husband Posthumous and her swaggering, brutish suitor Cloten, equally convincing as the upright hero and the sinister/comical villain. Joe Discher is likewise admirable as the loyal servant Pisano and the Roman emissary Caius. Anthony Michael Martinez is quite good as the lecherous Iachimo who first assails and then slanders Imogen's faithfulness, but is less effective as the wicked Queen-though it's not really his fault that the audience seems more inclined to laugh at the fact of a man in a dress than at anything he has to say.
Cymbeline is well worth a trip-though you'll have to decide for yourself whether that trip is down the tree-lined path at Rock Ledge Ranch, or within a smoke-hazed mind. This play, in the end, is mostly what you make of it.
Theatrework's Shakespeare in the Park production of CYMBELINE is playing now through August 24th, 7:30pm Tuesdays through Saturdays at Rock Ledge Ranch Historic Site, 3105 Gateway Road. Reservations are highly recommended. For tickets, call the box office at 719-255-3232 or visit www.theatreworkscs.org.
Photo Credit: Isaiah Downing