BWW Review: Pointless Theatre's IMOGEN Creatively Spotlights a Female Star of Shakespeare

BWW Review: Pointless Theatre's IMOGEN Creatively Spotlights a Female Star of Shakespeare

Shakespeare's CYMBELINE may be named for the play's king, but his daughter Imogen is the real star of the tale, the center of the action. Pointless Theatre's original adaptation by playwright-director Charlie Marie McGrath corrects the misnomer in a version entitled IMOGEN, which uses creative choreography and shadow puppetry to captivating effect. It's overly long, but it's Shakespeare as you likely haven't seen it before, which is saying something.

The plot has the best of comedy, tragedy, and romance. Princess Imogen (Katelyn Manfre) secretly marries courtier Leonatus (Alex Turner), whom Imogen's father Cymbeline banishes to Italy. The versatile, deadly Hilary Morrow plays both Cymbeline, whose role is hilariously reduced to that of a hand puppet, and the evil stepmother Queen, who tries to poison Imogen as part of her quest for the British throne. Back in Italy, Leonatus bets lecherous Iachimo (Kiernan McGowan) that Imogen will remain faithful even if Iachimo tries to seduce her; Iachimo tricks Leonatus into thinking he's done just that. As one does in Shakespeare, Leonatus plots to kill Imogen for her supposed infidelity. Imogen cross-dresses - again, classic - and runs away from the kingdom to preserve her life.

The storyline meanders, and the fat could've been trimmed to make proceedings snappier. But all things considered, the solid acting, shadow puppetry (designed by Matt Reckeweg), and brilliant choreography (Ryan Sellers) make up for any flaws. Costumes start off with period influences, but these fall away as swiftly as the fairytale tone, making way for contemporary attire and worldly problems. A two-man, multi-instrumental orchestra (Jonathan Een Newton and Michael Winch) provides an extra layer of drama, so constant that it's nerve-fraying at times, but it mostly enhances the plot with added richness. Many elements of the production are light and even cute, but some of the scenes - especially those involving overtones of sexual assault - are downright disturbing in tone, as they should be.

An entry in the Women's Voices Theater Festival, IMOGEN is an excellent example of a female character reclaiming her agency and refusing to relinquish it. It reframes a tale that has always focused on a strong woman, but needed adjustments to properly focus on Imogen fighting repression and taking ownership of her story. Pointless Theatre's production does this work justice, and with style.

Running time: approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes with a 10-minute intermission.

IMOGEN is part of DC's second installment of the Women's Voices Theater Festival highlighting new works by female artists. It runs through February 11th, 2018, at the Dance Loft on 14th, 4618 14th Street NW, Washington, DC 20011. Tickets are available at pointlesstheatre.com.

Photo: Katelyn Manfre as Imogen in Pointless Theatre's IMOGEN, photo by DJ Corey Photography, courtesy of Pointless Theatre.

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From This Author Barbara Johnson

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