A whimsical and lovely ‘Cymbeline’ from Rude Mechanicals

Cymbeline has long been considered a Shakespearean mess, with plot convolutions that take “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 “scenic trash of the lowest melodramatic order” and then rewrote the final act.

The play has inspired a variety of revisions and adaptations over the centuries, set in places such as a cattle ranch in the American West, the Confederacy, India in the British Raj, and South Sudan. . The characters in the most recent version of the film were biker gangsters and corrupt cops. The Rude Mechanicals point of view Cymbeline emphasized its fairy tale elements, as a Washington Shakespeare Theater production did 10 years ago, framing Shakespeare’s story as a tale read by a father to his half-interested child (Alan and Stephen Duda , respectively), princess bride fashion.

Belarius (Bill Bodie), Guiderius (Sean Eustis) and Arviragus (Will Robey) in “Cymbeline”. Photo by Claudia Bach.

That works. Rude Mechanicals director Erin Nealer steered the cast in a wry, knowing, and largely comedic style that regularly drew well-deserved laughs from audiences (even the director’s note and program biographies faithfully followed that style). His adaptation cut much of the play’s explanatory undergrowth, as well as much of its length. Parts of the original text, like the arrival of Jupiter to help clear things up, have been removed entirely, likely to the relief of everyone involved. The parts of Shakespeare’s scenes that were retained focused on the key points of the story for the central characters, making the plot more easily understood by the audience than it otherwise would have been.

Cymbeline is truly an ensemble show, with several actors making strong impressions. These included Bill Bodie (Belarius, a hearty lumberjack), Sean Eustis (Guiderius, a prince who doesn’t know he’s a prince), Evan Ochershausen (the trickster Iachimo), Sara Pfanz (the faithful and shrewd servant Pisanio ), Melissa Schick (the scheming queen, purple hair and all) and Katie Wanschura (the virtuous, much-hyped Imogen).

The play has moments of genuine, even tragic feeling, like when Imogen believes her husband, Posthumous (Erin McDonald) is, well, actually posthumous. In fact, it was the Cloddish Cloten (Linda Dye), disguised as Posthumous, who had his head removed and slipped it into one of the production’s multi-purpose wooden crates. At times like these, the quick change in emotional tone from general hilarity might be difficult to manage smoothly.

Posthumus (Erin MacDonald) the bartender (Joshua Engel) and Iachimo (Evan Ockershausen) in “Cymbeline”. Photo by Claudia Bach.

According to Greenbelt Arts Center health protocols, all of the cast wore masks, on which their characters’ names were helpfully printed. In the intimate space of the theatre, this rarely interfered with the audience’s ability to understand their lines.

Physical production was delightfully simple. To the right of the stage was a bed where the child lay with a menagerie of stuffed animals, his father’s chair and a table of props from which the actors grabbed plastic swords and daggers. other objects. The main element of the setting was a large group of hinged apartments, which opened 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.

Imogen (Katie Wanschura) with Cloten (Linda “Spencer” Dye, left) and Posthumus (Erin MacDonald) in “Cymbeline.” Photos by Claudia Bach.

Appropriate for the whimsical style of the production, which made no attempt at realism, Linda Dye’s costumes would have been right at home at a Renaissance festival. Imogen’s satiny pink dress, the queen’s iridescent gown, and Pisanio’s black and gold tunic were notable, as were many of the characters’ varying boots.

This Cymbeline was limited to one weekend race in person and the evening was great fun. Audience members who missed it have an additional chance to view a recording of the November 6 performance on the Rude Mechanicals YouTube channel.

Duration: 1h50 without intermission.

Cymbeline presented by the Rude Mechanicals performed November 5-7, 2021 at the Greenbelt Arts Center, 123 Centerway. Greenbelt, MD.

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