Few community theaters, or for that matter few theaters of any kind anywhere, are willing to tackle William Shakespeare’s Cymbeline. It’s among the bard’s least-produced plays for a reason, but as Harlequin Productions’ artistic director and the director of this show, Scot Whitney, says, there’s a core story line beneath it all that’s amazing. His advice for people who are afraid of Shakespeare is simply, “Don’t worry about it.” Sit back, relax, let the drama and poetry and spectacle sweep over you, and don’t try to understand every word.
I tried following that advice but found myself growing frustrated with my inability to comprehend everything during the first half. It was hard enough simply keeping track of who was who — made doubly hard because six of the 11 actors played two different characters each, and at least one character was not who he seemed to be. (Shakespeare delighted in having characters pretend to be someone other than themselves.) Fortunately, toward the end of the first half, things began to sort themselves out. By the end of the play, everything made sense. At least, I think it did.
To simplify the plot, which Whitney cut from five hours to three, trimming the cast from 25 to 11, Britain’s King Cymbeline (Russ Holm) has married a new and evil queen (played by Jessica Weaver, who later plays a wraith-like jailer: death personified). The queen insists the king’s daughter Imogen (Helen Roundhill) marry her own petulant son, Cloten (Will Lippman). But Imogene defies the queen and secretly marries her true love, Posthumus (also played by Lippman). Banished from Britain by the king, Posthumus meets Iachimo (Evan Sullivan) and braggarts in a bar. Posthumus accepts a wager from Iachimo that he, Iachimo, can seduce Imogen. Why Posthumus accepts the challenge is beyond my understanding, but Shakespeare’s plot twists have always defied reason.
Theater at its best tells a compelling story with engaging characters in a larger-than-life spectacle of sight and sound, with gorgeously inventive costumes, lighting and sets. Cymbeline has all of that in spades. For starters, take the post-apocalyptic setting. The set by Bruce Haasl is dark and foreboding, with everything dull-gray and metallic, and with seams and joints seemingly leaking gold. Amy Chisman’s fabulous lighting features hard-edged cones of differently colored lights that through smoke effects. Musical sound effects by Bruce Whitney enhance the drama and mood, and the costumes include black leather, long coats, militaristic gear and gossamer gowns for Imogen. There’s a robot named Pisanio (Christian Doyle) whose costume is a marvel of creativity, with what looks like heavy, metal armor over a tangle of lights, pipes and wires that display his mood. He moves like C-3PO and, like wheelchair-bound King Cymbeline, is often ushered on stage on a moving platform. Outfitting Pisanio takes an entire team, including robot engineer Monique Anderson, costume designer Jocelyn Fowlers and assistant robot engineer Jacob Ranger.
The acting throughout is great, with notable performances by Holm, Lippman, Roundhill and Weaver, Murren Kennedy as Guiverius and Dennis Rolly as Belarius, whose late introduction further complicates the plot.
Cymbeline is a long and difficult story, beautifully produced. Kudos to Whitney and everyone involved.
(This review appears courtesy of The News Tribune.)
Where: Harlequin Productions,
202 Fourth Ave. W, Olympia
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays – Saturdays;
2 p.m. Sundays Oct. 5-28
How much: $20-$34
Learn more: 360-786-0151 | Harlequin Productions