We can’t recall even knowing of a production of Cymbeline in the area; and it appears to have been performed only three times in the past couple years in the U.S., if Google can be relied on. For us, this raises the question, why that would be? A little more research suggested some think it is too long. Well, with some judicious cutting, as Bare Theatre does, it was not too long at all for us; and it is a charming, quasi-historical play with the harsh realities of early monarchies, romance, comedy, forgiveness, and reconciliation. We think it should be performed more often because it is a wonderful play, easily understood, with a plot that can be followed readily, despite the complications that contribute to its comedic form.
The play takes place in Britain during the First Century A.D., and shifts to Rome and also to Wales. It is based on the reign of Cunobelinus, a real-life British king. Cymbeline, as he is called in the play, is the king of Britain, married to a Queen who brought her son Cloten to the marriage, and under vassalage to Rome. Cymbeline also has a child by a former marriage, his daughter Imogen; and he had two sons who were stolen in an act vengeance before Imogen’s birth.
Imogen falls in love with Posthumus, an orphaned gentleman whom Cymbeline adopted and christened after both his parents died, and who grew up as Imogen’s best friend. The play begins just after Posthumus and Imogen have married, very much against Cymbeline’s desires, and certainly those of the Queen, who wishes to marry her off to Cloten, which would him the heir-apparent to the throne.
Cloten is a thoroughly unsuitable mate for the princess, because he’s a cowardly, self-centered, stupid bully. Nonetheless, Posthumus is banished from the kingdom and takes refuge in Rome.
The other principal character is Iachimo, an Italian soldier who believes he can seduce Imogen; and when he discovers he cannot, he turns very bad. So, there we have all the basic elements of a good comedy mixed with intrigue, warfare, cross-dressing, lost loves, and good old-fashioned skullduggery. Twenty-five characters are played in this production by nine actors; and in a reversal of English playwright and poet William Shakespeare’s dramatis personae, some of the men are played by women.
Sheryl Marsha Scott brings a powerful subtlety to the role of Imogen, vulnerable yet sturdy, innocent, but not naive. She is properly outraged when she discovers Iachimo’s true intentions, and her restraint when she recognizes Posthumus had us on the edges of our seats.
Posthumus is played by Justin Brent Johnson, who gives the character the sincerity demanded of the part and a physical presence that is masterful. Heather J. Strickland takes high honors first for her fight choreography, creating individual tableaux in the midst of a melee and using slow motion to exacerbate the full impact of hand-to-hand combat. It is a striking display of art and violence. She is also excellent as the Queen, full of ambition and vitriol and hatred, deceptive and cunning.
Cloten comes to us in the person in Allan Maule, whose stage presence is palpable while showing his character’s passion for evil and self-indulgence and revealing his cowardice and spoiled nature. Rebecca Blum is excellent in all three of roles she plays; but is outstandingly distasteful as Iachimo, and loyal and supportive as Messenger.
This cast spent a lot of effort on learning the text and what it means. Anyone who has been disappointed by Shakespeare productions where they mostly didn’t understand what they were hearing will appreciate the delivery director Laura Bess Jernigan has extracted from these actors. Clear and concise, emotionally supported rather than volume supported, and making the actions fit the words, this was Shakespeare as it should be heard, as well as seen. Also notable is the amazingly fast, efficient and creative scene changes.
There are some idiosyncrasies in this production which do nothing but enhance the enjoyment of the performance, and we leave it to the audiences to discover them. If you like Shakespeare, you’re going to love this show.
SECOND OPINION: March 28th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/03/28/3740175/theater-review-bare-theatres-most.html; and March 22nd Durham, NC Herald-Sun preview by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: http://www.heraldsun.com/lifestyles/entertainment/x1548110490/-Cymbeline-to-be-performed-at-Cordoba-Center-for-the-Arts (Note: You must register to read this article).
Bare Theatre presents CYMBELINE at 8 p.m. March 28 and 29 and April 3-5 and 10-12 at the Cordoba Center for the Arts, 923 Franklin St., Durham, NC 27701.
TICKETS: $18.59 ($13.41 students, seniors, and active-duty military personnel), including fees.
BOX OFFICE: 919-322-8819 or http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/559041.
SHOW: http://baretheatre.org/cymbeline/ and https://www.facebook.com/events/253514844804760/.
VIDEO PREVIEW: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q0fAqq_X3L8.
PRESENTER: http://baretheatre.org/, https://www.facebook.com/BareTheatre, and https://twitter.com/BareTheatre.
Cymbeline, a.k.a. Cymbeline, King of Britain or The Tragedy of Cymbeline (c. 1611 tragedy/romance): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cymbeline (Wikipedia).
Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Study Guide: http://www.bard.org/education/studyguides/Cymbeline/cymbeline.html (Utah Shakespeare Festival).
William Shakespeare (English playwright and poet, 1564-1616): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Shakespeare (Wikipedia).
Laura Bess Jernigan (Queens, NY director): http://www.laurajernigan.com/ (official website), https://www.facebook.com/laura.b.jernigan (Facebook page), and https://twitter.com/LauraBessJ (Twitter page).
Martha Keravuori is a life-long theater artist — an actress, director, and stage manager — in North Carolina, around the country, and overseas. She has a theater degree from UNC-Greensboro, and has been active in the arts in Raleigh for the past 40 years. Martha is the retired executive director of the North Carolina Theatre Conference. Chuck Galle returned to Raleigh last year after a 17-year absence. He was active in community theater for many years, and directed the troupe of maximum-security inmates at Raleigh’s Central Prison known as the Central Prison Players. In New England, he performed on stage, on TV, and in films. He is the author of Stories I Never Told My Daughter — An Odyssey, which can be ordered on his website: http://www.chuckgalle.com/. Chuck Galle and Martha Keravuori review theater for Boom! Magazine of Cary. Click here to read more of their reviews for Boom! Magazine and here to read more of their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.