Encore Michigan

Pigeon Creek brings Bard’s ‘Cymbeline’ to storybook life

Review August 13, 2017 David Kiley

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.–It’s surprising that Shakespeare’s romance Cymbeline is not done more often since its exaggerated happily-ever-after ending is so Hollywood you can almost imagine the credits starting to roll.

The Pigeon Creek Shakespeare Company production, which continues through Aug. 20 at Dog Story Theater in Grand Rapids, foreshadows this fairytale quality by opening with cast members singing “Storybook Love” from “Princess Bride.” Between acts, the company’s song is Lorde’s catchy “Royals,” with Scott Lange, dressed in his role as Cymbeline’s Queen, singing such apropos lines as “Let me be your ruler. You can call me Queen Bee, and baby I’ll rule. Let me live that fantasy.”

The love story unfolds in early Britain, when the island was ruled by Rome. The king’s daughter Imogen (Brooke Heintz) has fallen in love with Posthumous (Tommy Ryan), but King Cymbeline (Kat Hermes) wants a better match for his only daughter so he banishes Posthumous to Rome. The Queen (Scott Lange), who is Imogen’s stepmother, wants the princess to marry her boorish son, Cloten (Jessi Towell), who sets about to awkwardly woo her.

Meanwhile, Roman nobleman Iachimo (Sarah Stark) tricks Posthumous into believing Imogen has been unfaithful. Posthumous orders his loyal servant Pisanio (Noah King-Bates) to kill Imogen. Pisanio tells his master that he has done the deed when really he has disguised Imogen as a boy who stumbles upon a friendly family living in a cave. She has no idea the two sons in that family are really her brothers who were kidnapped as infants.

Of course, there are many more Shakespearean twists and turns: a poison that turns out to be a sleeping potion, a headless corpse wearing Posthumous’ clothes, and a battle between Cymbeline and the Romans with a mysteriously disguised hero.

Pigeon Creek does its usual creative job making each of these characters come alive. Bragging Cloten, for instance, becomes a bungling comic with Towell’s inventive interpretation. Heintz and Ryan have great chemistry as lovers Imogen and Posthumous, and convincingly portray the grief of loss. But one of the best scenes is Imogen’s well-timed, deadpan confusion at Iachimo’s over-the-top sales pitch. Scott Lange does a good job in the cross-gender role of Queen, adding just enough mannerisms to look female but not exaggerated into a drag queen.

Pigeon Creek’s sets are exceedingly simple, yet the placement of a bench at an angle and red sashes on the characters helped to differentiate between the bare stage of Britain and the court in Rome. The space is very close and intimate; the 20 people attending Friday’s opening performance barely outnumbered the actors on the blackbox stage. This can feel a little too close during sword fights, although Lange advised audience members they would be safe in their seats.

Costume details are important in such a close space and Pigeon Creek’s are well done. The queen’s dress, for instance, used a brown and turquoise patterned fabric with matching trim. A turquoise jeweled pin in her wig was a perfect accent as well as turquoise nail polish.

If people realized how much fun Pigeon Creek finds in Shakespeare there would be a lot more than 20 in the audience.

Click here for show days, times and ticket details.