Friday, Jun 23, 2017

Cymbeline (2013)

Imogen (Dawn-Lyen Gardner) goes to sleep with thoughts of her banished husband, Posthumus.  Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

Imogen (Dawn-Lyen Gardner) goes to sleep with thoughts of her banished husband, Posthumus.
Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

Variously called a problem play, a romance, a tragedy and a comedy, Cymbeline is a rarely performed play from the end of Shakespeare’s career. And there are good reasons for that. The plot contains many of his favorite tropes and themes: a man’s noble character is clear, even when he is raised basely; a change of clothes makes a woman into a man and transforms one man into another; lost children are returned to their family; evil ambition is thwarted. As well, the supernatural — particularly a seeress and dead relatives — plays a role in tying all of the plot elements together. These are familiar themes for Shakespeare — what is unusual is how he changes your expectations.

Yes, the lead female ‘becomes a man’ by changing her clothes, but unlike previous heroines her personality doesn’t change. So she finds the forest frightening, is overwhelmed by the physical aggressiveness of those she finds there, and remains feminine in enough ways that they can play the joke when one character says “I love thee” and indeed it is ‘his’ beauty that wins him admirers — very different from earlier plays. As well, when the clownish boor Cloten dresses in Imogen’s husband’s clothes in a mad plan to find her in the forest, ravish her, and then boot her back to her father for punishment, he does so in an effort to prove his worth: ” How fit his garments serve me! Why should his mistress, who was made by him that made the tailor, not be fit too?  . . . Posthumus, thy head, which now is growing upon thy shoulders, shall within this hour be off; thy mistress enforced; thy garments cut to pieces before thy face: and all this done, spurn her home to her father (Act IV, Scene 1)”  What it leads to is unexpected — I honestly can’t think of a single ‘clown’ character that meets the same ends as Cloten. These unexpected touches are what make this a well-developed play from a man long in his prime.

Director Bill Rauch does a wonderful job of ekeing out and highlighting all of the fairy tale motifs found throughout the play. Scene designer Michael Ganio has created one of the most beautiful sets I have ever seen on the Elizabethan stage. In another first (that I can remember) he has managed to create a multi-dimensional set that moves easily between locations and provides an exquisite background for David Weiner’s amazing lighting.

Howie Seago is the king, playing him with gruff terseness and a fine sense of timing. His reaction to Cloten’s horrifically, humorously, bad ‘signing’ is priceless. I continue to be a fan of this under-appreciated actor. Speaking of Cloten, Al Espinosa is magnificently hilarious. He and his lords (Daisuke Tsuji and Benjamin Pelteson) were delightfully funny, perfect in their timing and drop dead accurate in their physicality. Rauch clearly borrowed from fairy tale imagery for Robin Goodrin Nordli’s Queen, and she splays the part to excellent effect. I also enjoyed Kenajuan Bentley’s lecherous, deceptive Iachimo and Jeffrey King’s boisterous yet noble Belarious.

OSF does a wonderful job of wringing the humor out of every line. And that humor is maintained throughout the play (unlike many which are hilarious before the intermission and then a fast ride to horror or societal commentary afterwards). Some may find the humor obvious or even overdone, but I disagree.  If I have any criticism it is that I did not enjoy the singing, and would have liked less of it.

I enjoyed Cymbeline immensely.