Cymbeline has long been seen as a Shakespearean mess, with plot twists that take the “suspension of disbelief” to new heights and enough characters and disguises to populate a streaming miniseries. Samuel Johnson hated it. George Bernard Shaw once called it “melodramatic lowest order stage trash” and then rewrote the final act.
The play has inspired a variety of revisions and adaptations over the centuries, taking place in places such as a cattle ranch in the American West, Confederacy, India in the British Raj, and South Sudan. . The characters in the most recent version of the film were motorcycle gangsters and corrupt cops. Rude Mechanicals’ perspective Cymbeline emphasized its fairytale elements, as a Washington Shakespeare Theater production did 10 years ago, framing Shakespeare’s story as a tale read by a father to his semi-interested child (Alan and Stephen Duda , respectively), princess bride fashion.
It works. Rude Mechanicals director Erin Nealer steered the cast towards a tongue-in-cheek, self-conscious, and largely comedic style that routinely made well-deserved audiences laugh (even the director’s rating and program bio have faithfully followed that style). Its adaptation cut off much of the exhibit’s exhibit undergrowth, as well as much of its length. Parts of the original text, like the arrival of Jupiter to help set the record straight, have been removed entirely, possibly to the relief of all concerned. The parts of Shakespeare’s scenes that have been preserved focused on key points of the story for the central characters, making the plot more easily understandable to audiences than it might otherwise have been.
Cymbeline is truly an ensemble show, with several actors making a strong impression. These included Bill Bodie (Belarius, a warm forester), Sean Eustis (Guiderius, a prince who does not know he is a prince), Evan Ochershausen (the trickster Iachimo), Sara Pfanz (the faithful and insightful servant Pisanio ), Melissa Schick (the scheming queen, purple hair and all) and Katie Wanschura (the virtuous and very staged, Imogen).
The play has moments of genuine, even tragic feeling, like when Imogen thinks her husband, Posthumous (Erin McDonald) is, in fact, posthumous. In fact, it was the posthumously disguised Cloddish Cloten (Linda Dye) who had his head removed and slipped into one of the production’s versatile wooden crates. In times like this, the rapid change in emotional tone of general hilarity might be difficult to handle smoothly.
According to Greenbelt Arts Center health protocols, all actors wore masks, on which their character’s name was helpfully imprinted. In the intimate space of the theater, this rarely interfered with the audience’s ability to understand their lines.
The physical production was delightfully simple. On the right of the stage was a bed where the child was lying with a menagerie of stuffed animals, his father’s chair, and a prop table on which the actors grabbed plastic swords and other items. . The main element of the decor was a large group of articulated apartments, which opened up the fashion of the book to be Cymbeline’s castle, a bar, a forest scene, etc. It was the father’s job to turn the pages as he told the story.
Appropriate for the production’s whimsical style, which made no attempt at realism, Linda Dye’s costumes would have been right at home at a Renaissance festival. Imogen’s satin pink dress, Queen’s iridescent dress, and Pisanio’s black and gold tunic stood out, as were the varied boots of many characters.
This Cymbeline was limited to a weekend run in person and the evening was a lot of fun. Audience members who missed it have another chance to see a recording of the November 6 performance on Rude Mechanicals’ YouTube channel.
Duration: 1h50 without intermission.
Cymbeline presented by the Rude Mechanicals performed November 5-7, 2021 at Greenbelt Arts Center, 123 Centerway. Greenbelt, MD.