Must-See Comedy at Duke: Fiasco Theater Turns William Shakespeare’s “Cymbeline” into a Laff Riot

Fiasco Theater's rollicking rendition of "Cymbeline" will run Feb. 2-4 as part of the Duke Performances series
Fiasco Theater's rollicking rendition of "Cymbeline" will run Feb. 2-4 as part of the Duke Performances series

Fiasco Theater's rollicking rendition of "Cymbeline" will run Feb. 2-4 as part of the Duke Performances series
Fiasco Theater's rollicking rendition of "Cymbeline" is part of the Duke Performances series

Fiasco Theater’s pixilated production of Cymbeline, which concludes an all-too-brief three-day run in Duke University’s R.J. Reynolds Industries Theater at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Feb 4th, is six-man Shakespeare at its best. With four men and two women performing dozens of roles with great gusto, under the inspired direction of Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld, the Brooklyn, NY-based theater company breathes new life into this 17th century romance, originally entitled Cymbeline, King of Britain or The Tragedy of Cymbeline, and transforms it into a real laff riot, which earned an enthusiastic standing ovation from Duke Performances’ patrons at the conclusion of Friday night’s performance and is sure to appear on some local critics’ 2012 top 10 list.

When the curtain rises, crusty old British King Cymbeline (Andy Grotelueschen) punishes his disobedient daughter Imogen (Jessie Austrian), who has eloped, by banishing her new husband Posthumus Leonatus (co-director Noah Brody) from his kingdom. The very idea that Princess Imogen would marry a Romanized British orphan raised in the royal family sent the king’s blood pressure soaring. But rather than nip this objectionable romance in the bud, Cymbeline’s intemperate actions cause him to lose a cherished daughter, as well as a son-in-law.

During "Cymbeline, actor/directors Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld (on floor) fence, while Jessie Austrian (background left) and Emily Young watch with bated breath (photo by Ari Mintz)
During "Cymbeline, actor/directors Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld (on floor) fence, while Jessie Austrian (background left) and Emily Young watch with bated breath (photo by Ari Mintz)

Noah Brody and Jessie Austrian are delightful as the newlyweds, forcibly separated by royal fiat. But while unhappily enduring his exile in Rome, the lovelorn Posthumus makes the mistake of boasting about Imogen’s beauty and her faithfulness to the Iachimo (co-director Ben Steinfeld), who immediately decides to journey to Britain to try to seduce the emotionally vulnerable princess. Thus, a series of intrigues, deceptions, and betrayals is set in motion that will cost some of the participants their lives.

Ben Steinfeld is wonderfully wicked as Iachimo, who might best be described as Iago’s evil twin! Paul L. Coffey is amusing as Posthumus’ loyal manservant Pisanio, whom the banished groom leaves behind to look after his distraught bride Inmogen; and Andy Grotelueschen is hilarious as the irascible Cymbeline, as well as his bumbledicking stepson Cloten the unwashed and altogether offensive would-be suitor to the beautiful Imogen.

Emily Young completes this energetic and expressive ensemble, and she is delightfully devilish as Imogen’s treacherous stepmother, the ruthless Queen, who is conniving to have Cymbeline make her loathsome and belligerent son Cloten his royal heir.

 In Fiasco’s hands, "Cymbeline" becomes a wild ride of music, comedy, and drama (photo by Ari Mintz)
In Fiasco’s hands, "Cymbeline" becomes a wild ride of music, comedy, and drama (photo by Ari Mintz)

Paul Coffey’s cameos of Posthumus’ Roman friend and benefactor Philario and the powerful Roman envoy Caius Lucius are sharply etched; Noah Brody also adds a vivid cameo as a Roman Captain in Caius Lucius’ entourage; and Emily Young is a scream as a Frenchman and a delight as the indomitable rustic matriarch Belaria, whom Cymbeline banished from his court 23 years ago.

The superlative sextet help make Cymbeline a must-see comedy. They not only capture the power and poetry of the play; but they also smoothly segue from role to role to role, heightening the hilarity of the proceedings. The Superlative Six also prove themselves to marvelous musicians and singers as they underscore the sentiments of various scenes with a soundtrack of primarily bluegrass numbers, warbled with guitar, banjo, harmonica, flute, French horn, and cello accompaniment striking just the right note for each scene.

Also deserving their own round of applause are scenic designer Jean-Guy Lecat, whose minimalist set speeds the play, and costume designer Whitney Locher, whose timeless togs could be Renaissance outfits or everyday ensembles from a number of other eras. But the centerpiece of every performance is the fabulous multi-paneled trunk, designed and built by Jacques Roy. In the course of the play, it becomes a ship’s rolling deck, a coffin for a headless man, a cozy cave-dwelling — whatever is needed at each critical turning point in the script.

SECOND OPINION: Feb. 2nd Durham, NC Duke Chronicle preview by Caitlin Moyles:; Feb. 1st Durham, NC Independent Weekly mini-preview by David Fellerath:; and Jan. 30th Durham, NC interview with Ben Steinfield, conducted by Kimberly Ruskan: (Note: To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the Feb. 2nd Triangle Theater Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click

Duke Performances presents Fiasco Theater in CYMBELINE at 8 p.m. Feb. 4 in R.J. Reynolds Industries Theater in the Bryan Center, 125 Science Dr., Durham, North Carolina 27708, on Duke University’s West Campus.

TICKETS: $22-$28 ($5 for Duke students and $10 for all other students with valid ID).

BOX OFFICE: 919/684-4444 or



STUDY GUIDE: (Utah Shakespeare Festival).






Cymbeline: (official web page).

Fiasco Theater: (official website).

The Play: (Wikipedia).

The Script: (Massachusetts Institute of Technology).

The Playwright: (Wikipedia).


Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.

To start your FREE subscription to this newsletter, e-mail and type SUBSCRIBE TTR in the Subject: line.

To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click

By Robert W. McDowell

Robert W. McDowell is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer, editor, and critic. He has written theater, film, book, and music previews and reviews for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, and Classical Voice of North Carolina, all based in Raleigh. In 1980-91, he covered business, industry, government, and education for (We the People of) North Carolina magazine, published monthly by N.C. Citizens for Business and Industry. In April 2001, McDowell started Robert's Reviews, a FREE weekly e-mail newsletter that provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of the performing arts in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina, which includes Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, and Carrboro. Triangle Review is the latest-and-greatest version of McDowell's original newsletter. (To start your FREE subscription, e-mail robertm748[at] and type SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) From December 1980 until September 2017, McDowell served on the board of directors of The Cinema, Inc., a Raleigh-based nonprofit film society formed in 1966. He currently publishes a weekly list of FREE advance screenings of movies in the Triangle area. (To have your e-mail address added to this FREE list, e-mail robertm748[at] and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.) McDowell also co-edited and supervised the production of Jim Valvano's Guide to Great Eating (JTV Enterprises, 1984), a 224-page sports celebrity cookbook; and he served as a fact checker for Valvano: They Gave Me a Lifetime Contract, and Then They Declared Me Dead (Pocket Books, 1991).