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Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires

Cymbeline
Yale Repertory Theatre
Review by Fred Sokol | Season Schedule

Also see Zander's recent review of Love Letters


Miriam A. Hyman and Sheria Irving
Photo by Carol Rosegg
Cymbeline, at Yale Repertory in a majestic production that feels epic, continues on the expansive University Theatre stage through April 15th. Director Evan Yionoulis has re-imagined and envisioned this Shakespeare, filled with convulsions, and the results are positively arresting.

Yionoulis, deciding to cast against typical gender protocol for several roles, chooses Kathryn Meisle to play King of Britain, Cymbeline. Taking place long ago, as the program describes, or during the time of the Roman Empire, the plot finds his daughter (by another queen) Imogen (Sheria Irving) having secretly married a man she loves, Posthumus Leona (Miriam A. Hyman). The current Queen (Michael Manuel) wants her wayward, annoying son Cloten (Christopher Geary), whom she had through a previous marriage, to wed Imogen. One problem: Imogen is already with Posthumus.

Posthumus, while in Rome, is faced with devious Iachimo (Jeffrey Carlson) and there ensues a pivotal wager. Pisanio (Christopher Michael McFarland) is Posthumus's servant. To edit the story here, suffice to say that Posthumous becomes persuaded that his wife was not faithful. Hence, he advises Pisanio to have Imogen put to death. Pisanio knows the young woman is innocent and she is ultimately disguised as a boy and leaves the area. She encounters Belarius (Anthony Cochrane), a man raising two youths who are actually Imogen's brothers. She thought they had died years earlier. They are named Guiderius (known as Polydore), played by Robert David Grant, and Arviragus (known as Cadwal), played by Chalia La Tour.

Cloten (now wearing Posthumus's clothing, appears and Belarius recognizes him. Guiderius beheads Cloten. Enough: the story and accompanying action meander. During the final component of the production, fight directors Michael Rossmy and Rick Sordelet facilitate lengthy and impressive wielding of swords followed by a mesmerizing, slow motion, silent sword ballet. Not long thereafter, apparitions snare immediate attention. Finally, Iachimo is shown to have been less than noble. Ultimately, Imogen becomes recognizable as her true self once again, to her husband Posthumus. Peace is restored as Belarius, too, is permitted to return. Anger, finally, no longer drives character. Here is an advisory: Stay with this production, one well worth that effort!

Yionoulis, directing with enviable perception and creative impulse to match, has evidently deleted about 1000 lines from Shakespeare's text. Still, the running time at Yale Rep is in the three hour range. One who enters University Theatre must adjust to the reality: Cymbeline rarely stops twisting and turning. It is dramatic, romantic, and inclusive of some comedy. (It simply is not, however, as constantly rib-tickling as some in the opening night audience thought.) The play, finally, speaks optimistically about the younger generation's survival.

Jean Kim, designing the set, is a third year MFA candidate at the Yale School of Drama. Her creation is astonishing, inclusive of gnarled vines, stone walkways forever upward, a fortress-like structure that seems almost medieval—the expanse is floor to ceiling and it is most amazing. Elizabeth Mak's lighting is influential, especially during a "red" sequence late. The original music and sound design provided by Pornchanok (Nok) Kanchanabanca is an active ingredient. Asa Benally furnishes a vivid array of costumes.

Sheria Irving, as Imogen, has the central role and she is versatile and convincing throughout. Others, including Jeffrey Carlson, Anthony Cochrane, Christopher Geary, and Miriam A. Hyman, all of whom are multi-cast, are similarly skillful. Kathryn Meisle is perfectly natural as the title character. An aside here: there was once a highly rated regional theater in Springfield, Massachusetts, called StageWest. When Greg Boyd was artistic director, Ms. Meisle appeared, during his tenure in the mid-1980s, in As You Like It, The Crucible, and maybe more. Since then, she has had significant roles on Broadway, in London, and in film and television as well.

Cymbeline is not produced all that often since it is rambling, difficult, and not easily staged. Taking it on requires fortitude. Yale Repertory's depiction is singular and leaves an indelible imprint.

Cymbeline continues at the University Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut, as part of Yale Repertory Theatre's season. It runs through April 16th, 2016. For tickets, call (203) 432-1234 or visit yalerep.org.


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