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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

Cymbeline

Also see Susan's review of The Arabian Nights

Cymbeline will never be one of William Shakespeare's more coherent plays—there's a reason why it's rarely performed—but director Rebecca Bayla Taichman has created a production of it for Washington's Shakespeare Theatre Company that's as beautifully visual and easy to follow as may be possible.

Cymbeline is one of Shakespeare's late romances, along with the frequently staged The Tempest and i>The Winter's Tale and the less familiar Pericles. It bounces wildly from comedy to near tragedy in a world of Shakespearean devices—parents alienated from their children, mistaken identity, women disguised as men, children kidnapped in infancy, potions that may be deadly or may just give a person a nice long sleep, and more—but, in this case, they're all in one play. Taichman finesses this by gently imposing a framing device of a woman (Dee Pelletier) reading a bedtime story to a young girl (Zoe Wynn Briscoe) and occasionally taking on a small role herself.

For once, the central character is not the one named in the title; it's Imogen (Gretchen Hall), daughter of the ancient British king Cymbeline (the magisterial Ted van Griethuysen). She defies her father by marrying the commoner she loves, Posthumus Leonatus (stalwart Mark Bedard), instead of her vain, idiotic stepbrother Cloten (Leo Marks), son of her father's second wife, the Queen (Franchelle Stewart Dorn, dripping with malevolence). This marriage sets in motion innumerable complications for Imogen such as attempted seductions, plots against her life, and a close encounter with a headless corpse.

Hall maintains the integrity of her character even in her most extreme moments, but also has the benefit of a solid supporting ensemble, among which Adrian LaTourelle shines as the duplicitous Iachimo. Even such minor roles as Cloten's wisecracking lord (Tom Story) and the servant Pisanio (William Youmans) get their chances to stand out in this production.

Scenic designer Riccardo Hernandez and lighting designer Christopher Akerlind have created a gorgeously shimmering, ephemeral world for the vast canvas of the story, which ranges from Cymbeline's court to the anachronistically modern city of Rome and the wilderness of Wales. People seem to float as they walk on hidden platforms behind metallic floors and transparent walls, and tanks of water turn red as blood during battle scenes while rain streams down in the background. Similarly, Miranda Hoffman's costumes encompass the Queen's voluminous gown, glinting like a snake's skin, as well as Cloten's foppishness and the simpler clothes of outdoorsmen and soldiers.

Shakespeare Theatre Company
Cymbeline
January 18th March 6th
By William Shakespeare
Storyteller: Dee Pelletier
Girl: Zoe Wynn Briscoe
Queen: Franchelle Stewart Dorn
Posthumus Leonatus: Mark Bedard
Imogen: Gretchen Hall
Cymbeline: Ted van Griethuysen
Pisanio: William Youmans
Cloten's Lord: Tom Story
Cloten: Leo Marks
Helen: Jenn Walker
Iachimo: Adrian LaTourelle
Philario: Todd Scofield
Caius Lucius: Andrew Long
Morgan (Belarius): Michael Rudko
Polydore (Guiderius): Justin Badger
Cadwal (Arviragus): Alex Morf
Lords, Soldiers, Attendants: Katie Atkinson, Brian Clowdus, Adam Ewer, Benjamin Horen, Kevin Stevens, Tom Story, James Whalen, Hannah Wolfe
Directed by Rebecca Bayla Taichman
Harman Center for the Arts, Lansburgh Theatre
450 7th St. N.W.
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-547-1122 or 877-487-8849 or www.shakespearetheatre.org



-- Susan Berlin


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.



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