Cymbeline by William Shakespeare, Actors’ Shakespeare Project, 2/9/11-2/20/11, part of THE WINTER FESTIVAL (also playing: The Hotel Nepenthe by John Kuntz, 2/23/11-3/6/11; and Living in Exile by Jon Lipsky, 3/9/11-3/20/11) http://www.actorsshakespeareproject.org/season7/winter_festival.html
Reviewed by Becca Kidwell
This is why I love theatre. No sets. No real props (except musical instruments). Plain white clothing. All that is left is the artists and the words. Cymbeline, one of Shakespeare’s final plays, is rarely staged because of its meandering plots and complicated relationships (for a detailed plot summary, go to SparkNotes—really, it’s not cheating); Actors’ Shakespeare Project not only takes on the challenge, but performs the play possibly better than even Shakespeare could have envisioned it.
This phenomenally talented cast of seven takes the multiple plot twists and numerous characters and creates a cohesive and pleasurable fable for adults. Marya Lowry, who plays the Queen and Belaria, enters the performance space and captures the attention of the audience with her dramatic welcome and request to turn off the cell phones. Like the performances I have seen at The Globe in London, the play opens with a musical gathering of the actors. Imogen, played by Brooke Hardman, has married a lowly man named Posthumous whom her father King Cymbeline (played by veteran actor Ken Baltin) does not approve of. Posthumous (played by De’Lon Grant) is exiled and Imogen is left to weep and wait. De’Lon Grant shortly returns to the action as Posthumous’ foil, Cloten, the weak son of the Queen who was meant to marry Imogen. The entire cast possess incredible focus which allows for these quick transitions from one character to another.
Marya Lowry plays the beautiful, devious queen who wants the kingdom of Britain for herself. She contracts Doctor Cornelius (who is played at different times by Ken Baltin, Danny Bryck, and De’Lon Grant) to provide her with a poison to kill Imogen, but the doctor sees through her plot and prevents the tragedy. Marya Lowry enchants the audience as the malevolent queen and provides the venom that ultimately leads to the character’s demise. In contrast, as Belaria, Lowry offers an “earth mother” type character who raises up the two honorable princes (played by Danny Bryck and Risher Reddick), and whose fate ends up in the hands of King Cymbeline.
Brooke Hardman’s Imogen is a strong-willed individual who knows her own mind and her heart. When Iachimo (played by Neil McGarry) bets Posthumous that Imogen will be unfaithful, the only way he wins the bet is through elaborate deceit. When she disguises herself as a page, she shows that she can stand up among any man and hold her ground.
In addition to being one of the lost princes, Risher Reddick, plays the loveable servant of Posthumous, Pisanio. Reddick’s genuine innocence steals the audience’s heart as he struggles to figure out how to be true to his master while dealing with all of the underlying conflicts in the kingdom and abroad.
Doug Lockwood makes fabulous use of every inch of the performance area and keeps the audience enraptured in the story. Cymbeline is a wonderful Valentine’s gift from the Actors’ Shakespeare Project to theatre-lovers with pure, raw talent and heart. This is one performance that you should not miss. TNETG. 2/12/11.