Monday, November 14, 2016

Cymbeline (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Approaching Cymbeline, I had mixed feelings.  As ever, I hoped to enjoy the show.  Seeing a Shakespeare play I'd never viewed before made a tad giddy.  But then, the question in the back of my head didn't go away--why isn't this play done more?

I have my answer.  The plot is crazy.  Really, I don't think there's a more complex one in Shakespeare, not even Twelfth Night or Comedy of Errors.  The scale is vast, ranging from Ancient Britain to Augustus Caesar's Rome.  Mistaken identities make up a tiny bit of that (including a headless corpse).  Characters weave intricate plots, whose plans rarely go as expected, while nearly everyone makes some kind of terrible error.  In the end even the King (and title character) stops characters from explaining what happened.  And we the audience laugh along with him at that!

Although to be fair--and impressed--the cast do a wonderful job of keeping the plot clear while we watch it.  This marks the first of many praises I have for them.

Credit: Richard Gonzalez
To give a quick precis of how it all begins:  Cymbeline (William Dennis Hunt), an aging king, had three daughters but two vanished in infancy.  No one knows what happened to them--a plot point you'd be right will return.  His youngest daughter and heir, Imogen (Olivia Buntaine) has secretly married Posthumus (Dane Oliver), the orphaned son of a Roman officer whom the King has raised.  This causes rage, since Cloten (Jordan Klomp) the King's new stepson via his marriage to a new Queen (Christine Avila) wanted to wed her.  Besides, she didn't ask permission and poor Posthumus is not noble.  He is forced into exile, leaving his servant Pisania (Victoria Yvonne Martinez) with Imogen.  In Rome, a fairly vile Italian Lord named Iachimo (Daniel Ramirez) persuades him to a stupid bet over Imogen's purity.

Credit: Richard Gonzalez
The rest of plot has elements of fairy tales, Gilbert & Sullivan, even a few dashes of King Lear.  Horrible misunderstandings and lies abound, as well as a war between Britain and Rome, in which most characters are somehow involved.  Along the way, we meet Morgan (Gerard Marzilli) a disgraced warrior, banished by Cymbeline on a false charge twenty years ago, who kidnapped the King's daughters named them Polydora (Celia Mandela) and Cadia (Michelle Wicklas) and raised them as fierce Welsh warrior women.

Bit of an historical note, Queen Elizabeth's family the Tudors were Welsh.

Credit: Richard Gonzalez
It turns out these three play a crucial part in preventing British Conquest after Cymbeline tells the Roman Ambassador Caia Lucia (Kathleen Leary) he will pay no more tribute to Caesar.

Again, it makes for a very intricate story the whole production keeps clear as we watch it.  This in turn allows us to pay attention to the drama, the interaction of characters, and the way choices bear often unpredictable consequences. Cymbeline portrays a world of deep uncertainty, where national destinies hang on random decisions and raw chance.  Here loved ones betray each other, or seem to, where betrayal is sometimes rewarded and lies offer carnage as well as salvation.  Forgiveness proves cheap, or maybe unattainable, or maybe both.  Villains and heroes dot the story, and sometimes characters are both, while more than once a fool shifts the lives of everyone involved.

Yeah, it feels familiar, this world.  Sometimes very familiar.  Not least because the whole cast makes sure we see each person who walks on stage as just that--a person. An individual.  With stories left ultimately unfinished as the plot of this play comes to a close.

Cymbeline plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm until November 20, 2016 at the Whitmore Lindley Theatre Center, 11006 West Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood CA 91601.

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