I want to see every Shakespeare play performed live, so when I learned that Marin Shakespeare was putting on Cymbeline, one of Shakespeare’s obscure plays, I decided to go. What did I think?
The Play & Adaptation
Cymbeline is Shakespeare’s third longest play, and not as good as the two plays which are even longer, Hamlet and Coriolanus. I’ve heard that practically every production of Cymbeline liberally cuts lines, and since this production is only about two hours long, it is no exception.
The most famous part of the play is the song “Fear No More the Heat o’ the Sun” which is sung by some outcasts as they bury an innocent youth who had been wronged while alive. It might be the best song to appear in any Shakespeare play. I like this Youtube version.
This production takes the music and runs with it – I lost track of how many songs had been added. Aside from “Fear No More the Heat o’ the Sun”, they were generally light-hearted and simple, and were both enjoyable and made it easier to get into the story.
There are some lines which had clearly been added in order to clarify some of the denser parts of the play. For example, after Iachimo gives a long and ornate speech about what Posthumus has been doing in Italy, he pauses, and sums it up by saying ‘He’s having sex with prostitutes’. It made me laugh. There was also a convoluted speech where Belarius was revealing who his two ‘boys’ true identities, and then he came out and said ‘okay, there are two boys, and four names. Get it?’.
All in all, the plot was fairly easy to follow, which considering that this might be the most convoluted plot of any Shakespeare play, is no small accomplishment. For that alone this production is a success. It is also done as a slight parody of itself which. Considering how ridiculous the story is, maximizing the humor might be the most entertaining way to do this play.
The color theme for the costumes seemed to be blue, with the help of some greens and purples. It certainly made the Romans/Italians stand out with their bright red clothing, which is fitting, since they were foreigners in Britain. Though the Roman military was dressed like ancient Romans, most of the other characters were dressed in Renaissance/Tudor style.
Imogen’s dress (which is not the same as the dress as the dress in the press photo above – those press photos must have been taken before the costume designer finished her work) was lovely, with ribbons trailing from her waist. I think the ribbons helped her seem more innocent, which is exactly what’s needed.
The queen had a very appropriate dress, being stiff and straight, which formed a contrast with Imogen’s flowing dress.
Cloten’s costume had plaid running down his chest on one side, which made him look both snobbish and clueless. The headband also helped identify his head after it was separated from the rest of his body.
The one costume which didn’t work for me was the Goddess – rather than getting the sense that she was a divine being, she just seemed out of place.
The diagonal ramps with multiple entrances/exits worked very well at positioning multiple actors in different levels and offering many staging options. The grey + camouflage look also made the set very flexible, so we could believe that it was King Cymbeline’s palace or caves in the wilderness or a battlefield, depending on what was needed.
Lighting & Sound Design
Since I saw an afternoon performance, the lighting was designed by the sun and various nearby trees.
I must applaud Tommy Gorrebeeck. I didn’t even realize he was playing Posthumus and Cloten, even though at one point Cloten puts on Posthumus’ clothes until I checked the cast list. Sure, the wig helped, but that wouldn’t have stopped me from figuring it out if Tommy Gorrebeeck weren’t a fine actor on top of that.
Aside from that, the actors who stood out the most to me were Jed Parsario (Pisanio), Debi Durst (Cornelius), and Davern Wright (Iachimo). What all of their performances have in common is that they are good at comedy. Jed Parsario had good timing and was quick to react to the other actors. Though Cornelius is a minor character, Debi Durst made him into one of the most memorable by being the sardonic Greek chorus commenting on the ridiculousness of what was going on. When reading Cymbeline long ago, it never occurred to me that Iachimo could be a comic character, but now I must admit that Iachimo can be funny.
Aside from the comedic aspects, there was a striking silent moment where, on the battlefield, Posthumus (Tommy Gorrebeeck) and Iachimo (Davern Wright) recognize it other. It added gravitas.
The performer who did not stand out is Stella Heath as Imogen. I could understand her easily enough, and considering that this is Cymbeline, being comprehensible means that your performance is at least OK. However, Imogen, as the most important character in the play, can be a lot better than ‘OK’. That said, this production is slanted towards comedy, and Imogen lends herself to tugging heartstrings, not making people laugh. Still, I get feel that, while Stella Heath’s performance is adequate, it could have been more.
Seeing Marin Shakespeare’s Cymbeline was well worth my time and money. Cymbeline is rarely performed, and I suspect performances which are actually easy to follow and entertaining are even rarer. It’s not a great play, but this time, it is fun.
If, like me, you don’t have a car, fear not – this show is within walking distance of the San Rafael Transit Center, which has buses running to San Francisco, El Cerrito Del Norte BART station, and Santa Rosa.