Paul Abbott as Cymbeline, Rod Gnapp as Belarius, with Zack Purdy and Patrick St. John as the Princes with Jed Pirario as Pisanio.
William Shakespeare’s Cymbeline, Marin Shakespeare Company.
Directed and adapted by Robert Currier, with a cast of thousands- no, not really. No one really knows much about Cymbeline, Shakespearse’s convoluted rom-com (in today’s parlance), except that it’s alleged to be one of his last plays. It is believed to have been written in 16ll and to echo the Bard’s own coming to terms with his family as he approaches his final act. Director Robert Currier has effectively trimmed the play to a manageable couple of hours and still maintain its coherence, continuity and major and minor plot twists. To his credit as well is his clever incorporation of contemporary tropes, such as Nat Curries’ additional lyrics to Brooks’s and Warner’s “That’s Amore.” Another that elicited delightful laughter from the audience was Rod Gnapp’s (the leader of the uncouth Mountain Folk of Wales, Belarius) deliberate breaking of the fourth wall to clarify the multiple names for his “adopted” sons to help us make sense of the confusion. The play is upbeat and never loses our interest thanks to the actors who maintain high energy throughout. Kudos to composer Billie Cox for her musical adaptations from Shakespeare’s lyrics as well as original compositions. She created lovely musical interludes in the style of the era, everything from romantic ballads, a rock tune played on a ukulele no less; a madrigal, a monologue mimicking Gibert and Sullivan; an Irish dirge and a jaunty woodsman tune. Cox also designed the sound for the outdoor arena, enabling us to hear every word and song lyric.
Cymbeline is the bellicose King of the Britons, beautifully played by a believable, heavily-bearded Paul Abbott. Cymbeline ruled when Rome occupied Briton and battles were still being fought over payment of the tribute owed Rome. His daughter and only heir is Imogen (a sweet yet strong and determined Stella Heath). In order to ensure that she will stop at nothing to attain her goal, she at one point disguises herself as a boy. Cymbeline’s (nameless) narcissistic and perfidious Queen (Lee Fitzpatrick) had a son (from a previous marriage?), Cloten (Thomas Gorrebeeck). He is spoiled and self-indulgent, a dandy with shoulder-length blond locks. He swans about on stage flipping those locks, seeing himself as the proverbial God’s gift, yet cannot understand why he’s rebuffed!
Thomas Gorrebeeck as Cloten and Lee Fitzpatrick as his mother, the Queen
The plot begins to confuse when it is revealed that Imogen had two brothers who were kidnapped as infants by Belarius, from Cymbeline and their mother. We meet him and his charges near play’s end. The boys, Guiderius, known as Polydore (Zack Purdy) and Arviragus, known as Cadwall (Patrick St. John) are now twenty-something strapping mountain dudes in their own right, but innocent of their rightful heritage. They leap agiley about the mountain set created by set designer Jackson Currier. Then there’s Posthumus, a poor orphan, raised by Cymbeline. He’s shy thus non-assertive and hopelessly in love with Imogen. Actor Thomas Gorrebeeck plays both Cloten and Posthumus, two totally different characters. Unless you followed the cast list, you’d never know this, which attests to the actor’s versatility. A delightful, expressive Jed Parario, who moves about the stage like a dancer, plays Posthumus’s loyal servant, Pisanio.
Others vie for Imogen’s hand. Davern Wright credibly acts the part of the most aggressive suitor, Iachimo, rightly billed as “a smarmy” Italian. His cohort played by Zack Purdy is Philario; in the mix is a Frenchman played by Rafael Sebastian. Glenn Havlan returns to Marin Shakes for a third season after a successful run of “Taming of the Shrew,” by Theater of Others in San Francisco of which Havlan is the founder and director. In “Cymbeline” he plays a musician as well as a rather thankless rôle as Calius Lucius, the Roman Consul; Xander Ritchey played his Captain. Caius’s soldiers are played by Carolyn Doyle and Isabelle Grimm. Shakespeare most always writes otherworldly characters into his plays. “Cymbeline” is no exception: Debbie Durst plays Cornelius, a doctor in the ruler’s court. She is referred to as a witch, carries a wand, and is dressed in a black cowl and flowing gown. Ms. Durst delivers her portends with commanding, yet wry ominousness. Lee Fitzpatrick also plays a Goddess (the dead Queen?) and Annika Gullahorn is double-cast as a court gentlewoman and an Otherworldly Mercury.
Costume designer Tammy Berlin deserves praise for her work in this production. A costume can either make or break the believability of a character. “Cymbeline” will play at Marin Shakespeare’s Forest Meadows Amphitheatre, Dominican University of California in San Rafael, through July 26. Go to: www.marinshakespeare.org for more information and a schedule of upcoming plays..