Encore Michigan

Cymbeline: Shakespeare in the woods does Bard proud

Review July 17, 2015 Encore Staff

Cymbeline, the King of Britain has taken a new wife. She has a son, Cloten, who is an arrogant spoiled brat. He is to wed Imogen, the daughter of Cymbeline. The Queen has her eyes on the throne for Cloten. Imogen is in love with Posthumus Leonatus. They marry in secret and exchange gifts of love–she giving him a diamond ring and he giving her a bracelet. When Cymbeline finds out he banishes Posthumus Leonatus from the kingdom where he takes refuge in Rome. There he meets Iachimo who claims he can seduce Imogen and makes a wager with Leonatus who says Imogen cannot be seduced because of their love for one another.

Hang in there because it gets even more convoluted. And that’s the genius of Shakespeare. Cymbeline even has hints of a Gilbert & Sullivan comic opera where babies are switched at birth. Not the case here, but close enough. Shakespeare has used similar themes in his other works, where men and women switch roles in order to disguise their true identities.

Cymbeline is one of Shakespeare’s lesser know works, as well as being a seldom performed play.

And now–the setting. The Lakeside Shakespeare Festival is performed in a wooded setting in Frankfort, MI. The stage is bare bones with different levels, which Director Scott Cummins takes full advantage of with his actors. The audience and performers are completely surrounded by trees with the stage rising up to a wooded hillside with two rustic sets of stairs going up the hill from either side. There are two areas on the ground level—one to the right and the other to the left—that serve to conceal the actors before their entrances. Cummins makes good use of those as well as creating many entrances and exits from the back of the house, through the woods and from the top of the treed hill. The audience is unsuspecting of these entrances. His staging is commendable, for the audience is never cheated when it comes to sight lines. Pete Dully’s set design is perfect and includes a trap door for what will serve later as–well, you’ll see.

Cymbeline is billed as a comedy and the director and actors milk it for all it’s worth. Christy Arington is extremely funny in her role as Cornelius. Her southern dialect threw me at first but it was the beginning of what was to come. She has a commanding stage presence. Danny Taylor, as the Second Lord, also stood out. He, too, is memorable and consistent in his character.

Many of the actors double in other roles, but I will leave it to the audience to see who’s who. I felt that Sara Gorsky was a tad young for the role of the Queen. She had good gestures and body language and had the look of an evil queen, but her performance needs more strength. Steve Herson, as Cymbeline, was very comical especially in the closing scene. Cole Simon, who doubles as Cloten, was stronger in his role as Cloten than as Posthumus Leonatus; his Cloten drew a lot of laughs. Kelsey Phillips as Imogen was the weak link for me. She has beautiful stage presence, but needs a stronger command of her character. And I felt that her speaking voice came off as more of a high school student.

Pisanio, played by Noah Simon, was able to play the comedy as well as the drama and made the most of some tender scenes. Danny Taylor also played Frenchman with a good dialect and a nice transition from Second Lord and back again. Jeff Christian gave two wonderful, and contrasting, performances as Iachimo and Belarius. His Iachimo was the highlight with his southern used car salesman persona. He stole many a scene.

Balarius’s two sons—Arviragus, played by Connor Patrick Foley, and Guiderius, played by Sean Kelly—are handsome, virile and stand out on stage. They have great mobility and have fun with their characters. But, as they are acting apprentices, it is worth pointing out that they could both use more projection, especially in the outdoor setting where acoustics are not at play. Elizabbeth Laidlaw as Caius Lucius knows how to take command of the stage. The interns and other acting apprentices did their part in moving the performance along.

As for some of the productions aspects, the sword fight lacked intensity, coming off as too stagey. Costumes were a mixed bag of very interesting pieces that all worked well thanks to the efforts of Raquel Madorno.

The audience seemed to follow the multi-layered story well. Even the younger people and children seemed to get it. I think the southern dialect used by many of the actors helped. Shakespeare can be confusing. This was not. The performance ended with a very nice tableau.

There was one thing that happened during intermission that seemed out of place for me. Several of the actors came out and mingled with the audience. While perhaps driven by the marketing people, trying to bring the players closer to the casual theater-goer, it took away the mystique of theatre for me.

Music is provided by three stringed instrument musicians—Summer Hofford, Claire Orzel and Sam Buzzell. The music director is Noah Simon. They also serve to create the scene changes. There are no props, so bring your imagination. Well, there is a trunk. But that’s it! There is some stage lighting that is used as it gets closer to dusk.

Audience seating consists of small wooden bleachers and whatever you bring–folding chairs and blankets.

Cymbeline is a play in two acts. You are in the woods and very close to Lake Michigan so dress for a cool night, and bring bug spray. Refreshments are sold, or you can bring a picnic dinner.