Sunday, October 7, 2018

Cymbeline (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

Porters of Hellsgate has pledged to do the entire canon of the works of William Shakespeare.  Naturally this includes the more obscure, less produced works which of course includes Cymbeline (or, The Trials of Imogen).  Honestly, the script does offer some unusual challenges, not least a very complicated if compelling plot.  Yet what the play has in abundance is interesting characters, lots of them, and therein lies the drama as well as the comedy of this convoluted tale.

Cymbeline (Debba Rofheart) is the King of Britain during the reign of Augustus Caesar, whose heir and daughter Imogen (Cameron Kauffman) has married against his will Posthumous (Will Block), a lowborn orphan raised by the King.  Part of the King's rage is spurned on by his Queen (Thomas Bigley) who hopes to make sure her own son, Cloten (Jesse James Thomas) ends up on the throne.

Perhaps you've noticed one of the more fun aspects of the show, namely that casting has been pretty much gender-blind.  The King, played by a woman, has as his wife a man.

What follows in terms of plot is a bet made between the exiled Posthumous and a knavis Italian knight (which didn't exist in this period, but never mind...Shakespeare was a dramatist not an historian) named Iachimo (Jono Eiland) over far Imogen's chastity.  The knave makes for Britain, meets the lady, and quickly realizes he has lost the bet.  So he cheats and fakes "proof" of the lady's infidelity.  Posthumous, a good guy but like many a young man in Shakespeare also a total fool, believes this and orders his servant Pisanio (Alexandra Wright) to murder Imogen--an act the servant refuses but pretends to commit.

Rather than even try to describe the cascading events that follow, let me praise the production which makes this whole plot not only flow but entertain!  In fact Charles Pasternak's direction does much to help us follow events, which frankly get more and more complicated.  For example, eventually we meet a soldier (Dawn Alden) and his two adopted sons Guiderius (Cindy Nguyen) and Arviragus (Sydney Rose Walker) who turn out to be Imogen's long-lost older brothers!  All this should be too much, but proves nothing of the kind!  In fact as fun as the plot does prove, what really carries it on remains the characters, many of whom seem variations from other works.  Imogen seems a genuinely strong Desdemona with a lot of Cordelia, just as Cloten comes across as a vain, talentless version of Iago.  The biggest villain in may ways presents an image of a young Sir Toby Belch, one who discovers and repents the price of his roguish ways.  What is Posthumous but Claudio reborn?  All brought to vivid life by a first rate cast!

Cymbeline plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm until October 14, 2018 at the Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center, 11006 Magnolia (east of Lankershim Blvd), North Hollywood CA 91601.

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