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Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires

Cymbeline
Shakespeare & Company
Review by Fred Sokol | Season Schedule

Also see Zander's reviews of Newsies and The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) and Fred's review of The Roommate


Jason Asprey and Tamara Hickey
Photo by Stratton McCrady
After intermission of Cymbeline at Shakespeare & Company, through August 6th, director Tina Packer successfully pulls out numerous artistic stops to enliven this late Shakespeare. The great and prolific playwright sustains interest, for sure, but this is not his most commanding work. The imaginative production features nine nimble actors, all of whom take on multiple roles. The show has plenty of zip as it accelerates with comedy and some tuneful singing during its second hour.

Lovely Imogen (Tamara Hickey), daughter of Cymbeline (company stalwart Jonathan Epstein), King of Britain, has married Posthumus (Thomas Brazzle). The king does not approve and sends Posthumus away. While in Rome, Posthumus meets not-so-nice Iachimo (Josh Aaron McCabe). There's a wager and Posthumus is convinced that Imogen has strayed. Pisanio (Deaon Griffin-Pressley) is one of his servants who is asked to make certain that Imogen does not live. Pisanio, realizing that the woman isn't guilty, has her leave the premises.

Then there's Cloten (Jason Asprey), an indelibly expressive presence. He happens to be the offspring of the new Queen (Bella Merlin), current wife of Cymbeline. The Queen feels she can control this king and get his stepson Cloten and Imogen to marry. Colton does chase after Imogen but she is not interested. Ultimately, in a duel with Guiders (Ella Loudon), Cloten's head is chopped off.

Imogen, through distinctive costuming provided by Tyler Kinney, becomes disguised as a boy and is wandering. She drinks a potion that she surmised would enable sleep. She appears, however, to have died. Belarius (Nigel Gore), a banished lord, is one who discovers Imogen. She is actually alive. There is a mistaken identity moment when Cloten's body (sans head) is mistaken for Posthumus's body (with the same wardrobe).

Believe it or not, the lead theme of the play is probably one of romance through the excellent heroine, Imogen. In the end, one could honestly say it's a comedy with drama (and some history sprinkled in) which finally concludes with measures of peace and love. Still, the long first component of this production, while well executed in every fashion, is not consistently gripping. Early on, Cloten becomes a go-to figure and attention-getter. When he is on stage Jason Asprey brings volume, an edgy and authentic British accent, and lots of animation to the character. That continues until he is slain. Now in his 24th season with the company, Asprey understands that his character, not exactly a warm and sympathetic one, wants to grab the spotlight. Each time he is on stage, Asprey makes the most of his time. He is also fight director for the production and, a physical actor, partakes in nifty swordplay himself.

As Imogen, Hickey is disciplined and winning even if her character is faced with temporary loss of her husband, courtship she abhors from Cloten, time in a wilderness locale, and the belief that Posthumus has died. Through it all, she is brave and clever. Hickey plays the wise Imogen with verve.

Tina Packer, who is the Founding Artistic Director of Shakespeare & Company and has directed almost all of William Shakespeare's plays, tackles Cymbeline for the first time. She coaxes her actors to make costume changes almost on the fly, has them marching in the aisles of the theater (named for her), even delivering dialogue from the upper level of the playhouse. The first section is credible and expository but the production does not really take off until its second portion. The show becomes far more inviting through a musical sequence, a "dream" scene, the interface between Cloten and Guiderius and so forth.

This cast combines those who have performed with Shakespeare & Company for decades with other actors who are newer to the troupe. Packer, striving for vigorous interpretation, effectively pushes actors to take the action to the house; there isn't any fourth wall whatsoever. The play, itself, is not among Shakespeare's foremost achievements.

Cymbeline continues at the Tina Packer Playhouse at Shakespeare & Company in Lenox, Massachusetts, through August 6th, 2017. For tickets, call (413) 637-3353 or visit shakespeare.org.


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