Saturday, August 6, 2016

Cymbeline (Shakespeare By The Sea 2016 Production) Theatre Review

Summer, for me, means Shakespeare in the park, and I am always excited to see what the Shakespeare By The Sea theatre company will do. This season the company is putting on Cymbeline and Othello. Shakespeare By The Sea is based in San Pedro, where they do a large number of their performances. But if you don’t live in that area, and you don’t want to drive to San Pedro, don’t worry, for Shakespeare By The Sea comes to you. Or at least some place near you. The company came fairly close to me last night, with a performance of Cymbeline in Garfield Park in South Pasadena. I was particularly excited about this production because Cymbeline isn’t produced all that often.

Before the performance, recorded music plays over speakers, while company members go through the crowd, selling raffle tickets to help pay for the summer season. Because, though the performances are free to attend, they are certainly not free to put on. They also have T-shirts, sweatshirts and concessions for sale. Promptly at 7 p.m., announcements are made regarding the production, the company and what folks can do to spread the word, and the play begins right afterward.

Interestingly, this production begins with the entire company on stage, and rather than the two Gentlemen of the text, the first scene has one, who speaks directly to the audience, functioning almost like a chorus. And as the abduction of Cymbeline’s two sons is mentioned, the actors playing the sons exit upstage. It’s a way to get an audience who might be unfamiliar with the play quickly up to speed with the relationships, and with who is who. And from there the production moves to the rest of the scene with the Queen, Imogen and Posthumus.

The stage has one main playing level, and then several other levels around it, and the company makes great use of the space, creating some wonderful stage images. For example, in this scene at one point Imogen and Posthumus are down center facing each other, while the Queen re-enters above center. It’s brief, but this image says a lot. Imogen and Posthumus are closer to the audience, and it is with them that the audience will relate. The Queen is above them, in a position of power, and also looks down upon them, illustrating how she manipulates and affects their situation.

By the way, the cast is quite good. Particularly impressive is Stacy Snyder as Imogen. When Cymbeline banishes Posthumus and tells Imogen she would have made the throne a seat for baseness, she replies, “No; I rather added a lustre to it.” Stacy’s delivery of that line is excellent, and with that line you see she is really trying to convince the king of the truth of it, rather than responding to anger with anger. And later when speaking to Pisanio of Posthumus, she has a delicious, youthful excitement. And in the scene with Iachimo, she gives each line of “What ho, Pisanio!” a different feeling, a different meaning. The first, she is nervous; the second is spoken with more anger; and then in another scene when she speaks that line, the concern is more for Pisanio than for herself. Newcomer Christopher Dietrick (this is his first season with the company) turns in a really good performance as Posthumus. He is particularly excellent in the scene when he awaits word about the results of the wager.

Andria Kozica does a wonderful job as the Queen. I especially like the nice moments she finds to show that even she is disappointed with Cloten (Bryson Allman). I also appreciate that she doesn’t overdo or oversell those moments. There is, of course, some silly business between the two. For example, when Cloten says, “I have not seen these two days,” he holds up three fingers, and the Queen pushes one finger down. By the way, I love the exchange then between Cloten and Pisanio, and the delightful and sudden changes in attitude that Cloten displays (as on “Let’s see ‘t”).

This production includes some comic swordplay between Cloten and Posthumus, showing us Cloten drawing on Posthumus and thus eliminating Pisanio’s lines describing the event. Cloten also bites his thumb at Posthumus, a nice reference to another of Shakespeare’s plays. That is combined with the second scene, and Cloten’s reading of “Would there had been some hurt done” is really funny. Also done really well is the scene where Posthumus makes the wager with Iachimo (Dorian Tayler). When Iachimo says, “Your ring may be stolen too,” he returns the ring to Posthumus, doing a little sleight-of-hand, which is a nice touch and a great indication of the possible future danger regarding this character. There is also lots of comic business in the sword fight between Cloten and Guiderius (Iyan Evans, in his first season with the company). There are some good moments between Imogen and Pisanio. When Pisanio says he’ll send Posthumus some sign of Imogen’s death, he cuts his own hand with his dagger and wets a cloth with his own blood. And on “And fit you to your manhood,” he gives Imogen a dagger.

There is a bit of re-ordering of scenes, with Belarius, Guiderius and Arviragus being introduced much earlier than in the text. Act III Scene iii is moved to Act I, just before Scene vi. And after the scene with Imogen and Iachimo at the end of the first act, this production goes straight to Act II Scene ii, in which Iachimo comes out of the trunk. Oddly, Imogen sleeps on top of the trunk, and Iachimo slides out from a trap door in the front. It’s a little unclear whether the trunk is functioning both as Imogen’s regular bed and as the trunk, or if Imogen decides to sleep on Iachimo’s trunk rather than her bed. It’s one of the production’s only awkward moments. The beginning of Act II Scene iii is cut (the bit with the musicians). Act V Scene iv is cut.

This production is directed by Cylan Brown, and is done in period costume. There is one intermission, coming at the end of Act III Scene ii. By the way, during the intermission a girl filmed audience members reciting lines from Shakespeare. Apparently, these will be put together in some fashion on the web site. A young boy near me read some of Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” speech, but he needs to take a cold reading class, for he never looked up from the page. If you missed the performance in South Pasadena, you still have a few more chances to catch the show. Cymbeline will be performed in Aliso Viejo, Beverly Hills, Manhattan Beach, Irvine and Rancho Palos Verdes, before wrapping up back in San Pedro. Check the Shakespeare By The Sea web site for details. And bring a sweatshirt - it gets cool at night.

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