Few community theaters, or for that matter few theaters of any kind anywhere, are willing to tackle William Shakespeare’s “Cymbeline.”
It is the bard’s least produced play for a reason, but as Harlequin Productions’ artistic director and director of this show, Scot Whitney says, there is a core storyline underneath it all that is amazing.
His advice for people who are afraid of Shakespeare is, “Don’t worry about it.” Just sit back, relax, let the drama and the spectacle and the poetry sweep over you, and don’t try to understand every word.
I tried following that advice, but found myself becoming frustrated with my inability to comprehend everything during the first half of the play.
It was hard enough simply keeping track of who was who — made doubly hard because six of the 11 actors in the show played two different characters, and at least one character was not who he seemed to be (Shakespeare delighted in having characters pretend to be someone other than themselves).
Fortunately, toward the end of the first act things began to sort themselves out, and by the end of the play everything made sense. At least I think it did.
To simplify the plot, which Whitney cut to three hours from five and from 25 cast members to 11, Britain’s King Cymbeline (Russ Holm) has married a new and evil queen (never named, played by Jessica Weaver, who later plays a wraith-like jailer who could easily pass as death personified).
The queen insists that the king’s daughter, Imogen (Helen Roundhill) marry her spoiled and petulant son, Cloten (Will Lippman). But Imogene defies the queen and secretly marries her true love, Posthumus (also played by Lippman).
Banished from Britain by the king, Posthumus meets Iachimo (Evan Sullivan) and a bunch of braggarts in a bar. Posthumus accepts a wager from Iachimo that he, Iachimo, can seduce Imogen. (Why he accepts the challenge is beyond my understanding, but Shakespeare’s plot twists have always defied reasonableness.)
Theater at its best tells a compelling story with engaging characters and is a larger-than-life spectacle of sight and sound with gorgeous and inventive sets, costumes and lighting. “Cymbeline” has all of this in spades.
For starters, it is a steampunk, post-apocalyptic setting. The set by Bruce Haasl is dark and foreboding — everything dull gray and metallic, with seems and joints seemingly leaking gold.
Amy Chisman’s fabulous lighting features hard-edged cones of differently colored lights beaming through smoke effects. Musical sound effects by Bruce Whitney enhance the mood and the drama, and the costumes include black leather, long coats, militaristic gear and gossamer gowns for Imogen.
And there is a robot named Pisanio (Christian Doyle), whose costume is a marvel of creativity with what looks like heavy metal armor with a tangle of pipes and wires and lights that display his mood. He moves like 3-CPO and, like the king who is wheelchair bound, is often ushered on stage while standing on a moving platform.
Outfitting Pisanio takes an entire team, including costume designer Jocelyn Fowlers, robot engineer Monique Anderson and assistant robot engineer Jacob Ranger.
The acting throughout is great, with particularly notable performances by Lippman, Weaver, Holm and Roundhill, Murren Kennedy as Guiverius, and Dennis Rolly as Belarius, whose late introduction into the story brings in an earlier hinted-at side story to further complicate the plot.
“Cymbeline” is a long and difficult story beautifully produced. Kudos to Whitney and everyone involved.
Check Alec’s blog at alecclayton.blogspot.com for reviews of other area theatrical productions.
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday, through Oct. 28.
Where: State Theater, 202 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia.
Information: 360-786-0151; http://www.harlequinproductions.org.