Reviewing Theatre For Over 40 Years
Bad Shakespeare Makes Good Theatre! – “Cymbeline” Shines at A Noise Within
If you ask the ordinary, reasonably educated person to list the plays of Shakespeare, many will forget to include some of his final, generally less admirable ones. Other than “The Tempest,” the later “Romances” can be a tedious lot, borrowing as they do from other more successful plays, both of Shakespeare himself and his contemporaries, and using plot devices already pretty much beaten to death.
Of these, one of the least is “Cymbeline,” a mash-up of deviousness, betrayal, diplomatic idiocy and royal pomposity, with the most ridiculously happy ending in all of the Shakespearean canon. Okay. Now ignore all that. A Noise Within has started their new season with a production of this rarely seen work directed as if a comedy. And, as a comedy, it works. Indeed, as a comedy it is no more ridiculous than any of his earlier silly turns, and often so dramatically over the top that it proves a delight.
Director Bart DeLorenzo starts from the concept that the play is essentially silly. He fiddles with the audience’s perception by double-casting his performers: The pompous, Lear-like English king is also the gentle and understanding Roman nobleman. The devious, plotting queen is also the good-hearted, banished woodsman. The foppish pretender to the throne is also the devoted, banished husband of the princess. It provides a delightful challenge for the actors, and brings a symmetry to the plot.
Joel Swetow is Cymbeline, the English king whose sons were stolen in infancy leaving only a daughter to inherit. Even as his second wife plots to wed her son, Cloten, to this young princess, the princess stealthily marries Posthumus, a comparative nobody raised in the palace. Faced by challenges from Rome over a lack of tribute, and challenges from at home in what he perceives as a wayward daughter, the King overreacts: Posthumus is banished, and the Rome is angered to the point of impending war.
Add to this an Othello-styled plot to convince Postumus his wife is cheating, include the two stolen sons as burly folk raised by a woodsman, add in a passionately loyal servant, and you’ve got the plot.
DeLorenzo has set all this in a fantasy time, partly Restoration, partly Empire, with the embellishments of the Baroque. In short, it is a fairy tale, and a funny one. Adam Haas Hunter makes the devoted but easily fooled Posthumous impulsively endearing even as he creates a Cloten so idiotic and overdone as to inspire peals of laughter. Francia DiMase, as the queen, vibrates with sensual energy, even as she stumps sturdily about as the woodsman.
Andrew Elvis Miller has one of the larger spreads, moving from the happily lascivious Italian whose lies create discord for Posthumous to a practical and noble Roman general. Jarrett Sleeper and Paul David Story play the stolen boys, noblemen and others, creating separate treatments for each, ranging from court sophisticates to boorish but well intentioned woodsmen/princes.
Though one might think their jobs a bit simpler, the work of Helen Sadler, as the princess who becomes a pawn, then eventually has to pretend to change gender to save her own life, has plenty of challenges, well met. Time Winters, as the princess’ loyal servant navigating his way through the complexities, the silliness, and the deadly, acts as a man of solid logic in a swirling maelstrom. It becomes the glue which holds this fanciful tale together.
Indeed, these performances combine to create magic out of mediocre Shakespeare. They make the thing funny, touching and entertaining far more than the words do. Put that together with the initial light-hearted concept, and this thing is a startlingly unexpected winner.
Kudos also to Angela Balogh Calin’s fairy tale costuming, and to Keith Mitchell for catching the sense of intentional stagey-ness which makes the whole thing come together.
“Cymbeline” as a play is not great art, regardless of its venerated author. That doesn’t keep it from being great fun. Come for a comparatively unique experience, considerable laughter, and the silly satisfaction of one of the most outrageously improbable scripts the Bard ever wrote.
What: “Cymbeline” When: In repertory selected dates through November 18, 8 p.m. Thursdays through Fridays, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sundays Where: A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd. in Pasadena How Much: $40 – $52 Info: (626) 356-3100 or http://www.ANoiseWithin.org