BWW Review: CYMBELINE at Great River Shakespeare Festival
The Great River Shakespeare Festival in Minnesota has taken up one of the Bard's more obscure plays as part of its Season 16 offerings. CYMBELINE is difficult to classify (one scholar called it a "comical-tragical-historical-pastoral-dramatic-romance")! But that also makes it a lot of fun, a sort of fairy tale play. It is set in pre-Christian Britain, in the court of the historical ruler, Cymbeline. As always, it is the characters that capture our imagination and it is the favorite play in the canon of Artistic Director Doug Scholz-Carlson, who is directing the play at this professional Equity theatre festival.
The plot spins off of the relationship between the mightily tried Imogen and her Leonatus. These two young people have married against the will of Imogen's father, King Cymbeline. The king's second wife, a character we love to hate called only Queen - a deliciously wicked Melissa Maxwell - will stop at nothing to manipulate her husband on any number of matters. Most pressing is to marry Imogen to the Queen's son, Cloten, a weak-willed braggart (both the Queen and King Cymbeline ignore that Imogen is already married! Pre-Christian indeed).
In an interesting casting twist, Alex Givens plays both Leonatus and Cloten; as the former he is sensitive and brave and searching, and as Cloten Givens is the complete buffoon. He is excellent as both. When Leonatus is banished by Cymbeline he travels to Italy. When an Italian nobleman, Iachimo, challenges Leonatus that his concept of Imogen as a paragon of all feminine virtues is laughable - and that he can easily seduce her - Leonatus enters into this 'gentleman's agreement.' Thus the chain of events begin with Imogen refusing the devious Iachimo, who then devises a ruse to convince Leonatus of her wantonness.
Imogen, her life unbearable amongst the wicked Queen, Cloten's unwanted attentions, a father who is painfully clueless about her misery, and missing her Leonatus, runs away - dressed as a boy, of course - in the company of her husband's faithful servant. This is Shakespeare, so there are letters, exchanges of baubles, promises kept and broken, mistaken identities, and lovers reunited. Also, quite touchingly, the discovery that the two sons of Cymbeline thought killed as babies are alive, living as peasants with a servant who has remained faithful to Cymbeline though unjustly banished years ago. Imogen loses a throne but gains two brothers and she is more than content with such a bargain. Anique Clements as the most admirable Imogen is at once vulnerable, fierce, and loyal. Other standouts among the truly stellar cast are Tarah Flanagan as the wise and loyal servant Pisanio, Benjamin Boucvalt as a creepy Iachimo (who gives us a very uncomfortable bed chamber scene with the sleeping Imogen), and Michael Fitzpatrick as the king who is quick-tempered but easily lead by others. Both King Cymbeline and Iachimo regain their humanity, and themes of mercy and forgiveness shine at the culmination of this story.
The creative team includes scenic designer R. Eric Stone, lighting designer Lonnie Rafael Alcaraz, costume designer Rebecca Bernstein, sound designer and original music composer Katharine Horowitz, and original song composer and arranger Christopher Preston Thomas, intimacy director Tom Ringberg, stage manager Madison Tarchala, assistant director Ethan Graham Roeder, and production manager Joseph Millett. CYMBELINE runs in rep at the Great River Shakespeare Festival through August 4, 2019. For tickets go to http://grsf.org/box-office/ or call 507.474.7900.
Kathleen Kenney Peterson
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