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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 14, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 02
Cymbeline solid, but not Shakespeare's best
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Cymbeline solid, but not Shakespeare's best

by Miryam Gordon - SGN A&E Writer

Cymbeline
Seattle Shakespeare
Company
Through January 30

Seattle Shakespeare is providing a gift to Seattle in producing an almost-never seen Shakespeare play, Cymbeline. The production can certainly be said to be up to Seattle Shakes' normal high standards. A great team of actors, directed by Henry Woronicz, an alum of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, means that it's an eminently watchable play.

It does become clear, though, that this was not Shakespeare's best, even though many times, we (should) get better as we get older. The gimmicks in the play read like a list of Bill's best ideas: a woman has to hide in plain sight as a man, someone drinks what is supposed to kill him/her and then wakes up, a baby is raised away from his noble family yet behaves much as any noble child should (good behavior, of course), and bad people repent in the end, revealing everything they did wrong and their secrets so all the loose ends are tied up.

This production is dubbed a 'chamber' version, which entails cuts - one hopes judicious - to shorten, but not significantly change the play. At over two and a half hours, it's not nearly as short as one might expect. The basic story is of King Cymbeline's complicated family (the king and queen are played by celebrated Shakespeareans Larry and Jeanne Paulsen). The prologue tells us (rather too quickly to absorb) about his children, at least two of whom are missing or dead. There was a 3-year-old boy child who was stolen by an erstwhile noble who had been banished some 20 years ago. The reason for the banishment is unclear.

Another baby boy - who is of low birth, as they used to say - had been taken into the king's household and raised by him. A girl child, Imogen (Jennifer Lee Taylor), is now in love with and has married the low-born man, Leonatus Posthumous (Connor Toms), in defiance of her father's will. King Cymbeline banishes Posthumous, basically trying to force Imogen to choose to marry Cloten (also Connor Toms in a double role), her stepbrother, who is championed by the king's current wife. Of course we know that Imogen will never do that.

The queen stepmother is evil, desires her son to inherit the kingdom, and traffics in dangerous drugs that are supposed to be poisonous. She gets some from Cornelius (David Goldstein) who is so suspicious of her that he gives her something that will act like it killed someone, but that person will recover. (Romeo and Juliet, anyone?)

Posthumous, in exile, gets into a pissing contest with a Roman, Iachimo (Bradford Farwell), who bets him Iachimo can prove Imogen disloyal by getting into her & gown. Iachimo cheats and returns with enough to supposedly prove he wins the bet. Posthumous, in a rage, tells his servant Pisanio (Alexander Samuels) to take her out of town and kill her. Pisanio takes her, but disobeys by suggesting Imogen dress as a boy for a while to hide.

Cloten runs after Imogen in a rage, meets up with Guiderius (Ben McFadden) in the forest, who we are pretty sure will turn out to be the missing 3-year-old. Guiderius kills Cloten in self-defense. Then there is a war with Rome and Iachimo ends up a prisoner. Posthumous has done heroic deeds and deserves the king's thanks.

Imogen has also bumped into Guiderius and taken shelter with him and his supposed father, but took the special drug and looks dead. She wakes up and gets embroiled with the Romans and gets captured, where eventually she has to reveal herself. Then everything (really, everything) is revealed, and whoever is left gets to be somewhat happy, again.

The production is handsomely designed by Carol Wolfe Clay (sets), Brendan Patrick Hogan (sound), Pet Rush (costumes), and Rick Paulsen (lights), who is related to the other Paulsens. The actors all do their jobs aptly and well. Woronicz keeps things moving and relatively clear for such a complicated plot.

It's nice to see an unfamiliar Shakespeare play. But it makes some sense that at least a few of the lesser-known works maybe deserve to stay that way. For more information, go to www.seattleshakespeare.org or call 206-733-8222. Comments on reviews go to sgncritic@gmail.com.

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