Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

Marin Shakespeare Company

Patrick's review of Jarrod Spector: A Little Help from My Friends, Eddie's reviews of Freedomland, Arcadia and Black Virgins Are Not for Hipsters, and Richard's reviews of Elton John: The Sing-Along and Detroit

Lee Fitzpatrick, Stella Heath, and Thomas Gorrebeeck
Playgoers who arrive at the Forest Meadows Amphitheater (on the campus of Dominican University in San Rafael) are often laden with baskets and bags filled with picnic supplies, blankets, sweaters, and seat cushions. After all, the evening air at this outdoor venue can bring a chill, and an evening under the stars can only be made better with a bit of bread, a hunk of cheese, and a glass of wine.

Shakespeare also brought some baggage with him to the writing of Cymbeline, one of his later, and least-produced, works. Pretty much every trope you expect from the Bard is on display here: a feckless king, a conniving queen, potions that bring on a death-like sleep, cross-dressing that somehow fools everyone as to your gender, star-crossed lovers. It's the Elizabethan version of Rocky V—a franchise that was getting old, but still with money to be milked from it. But if you ignore the clich├ęs and the coincidences and decide simply to have a good time with this portmanteau play, that's exactly what will happen. For the Marin Shakespeare Company cast is having too much fun onstage for it not to spill over into the audience.

And it's not just the cast that's having a good time: director Robert Currier has chosen to turn this play—which Shakespeare labeled a tragedy, but is more of an historical romantic comedy (the only characters who die are the ones who deserve it)—into a musical. Nine songs are scattered across the two acts, and though none would make it to the most-played list on Spotify, their presence simply adds to the silliness and fun of the show—especially since the band is composed of a bass ukulele, violin, bassoon, and assorted percussion. It doesn't hurt that the two leads—Stella Heath as Imogen, Cymbeline's daughter, and Thomas Gorrebeeck as Posthumus, his adopted son and Imogen's beloved—have wonderfully strong voices. And there's a moment when the bassoon plays the first ominous notes of the theme from Jaws that is absolutely perfect.

The story ranges widely—from Cymbeline's court to Rome (the play takes place during the reign of Caesar Augustus) to the wilds of the Welsh countryside—all on a set that unfortunately looks more like a setting for a paintball war, with its climbing wall elements and camouflage netting. Cymbeline is worried about succession: his two male heirs were kidnapped as toddlers, and Imogen shows zero interest in marrying Cloten, the queen's son from a previous marriage. Ultimately—as befits a romance—a long and tortuous path leads us to the resolution of his predicament.

As strong as Gorrebeeck is in the role of Posthumus, he surpasses it by also playing Cloten, the Queen's evil son who has his heart set on marrying Imogen and seizing the throne. His Cloten is whining, petulant, privileged—and hysterical. And so different from his Posthumus that I didn't even notice he was playing both roles until I checked the program. Even then I thought it might have been a misprint!

As she did in last year's Romeo and Juliet, Debi Durst almost steals the show with her hysterical portrayal of Cornelius, the court doctor. (Looking amazingly like Emperor Palpatine from the Star Wars films, I might add.) Her comic timing is terrific, and with a roll of an eye or furrow of a brow she can coax comedy gold from almost every line she delivers. The only real disappointment among the lead players is Lee Fitzpatrick as the Queen, which seemed inspired by every evil queen Disney ever created. There's more to villainy than a shrieking cackle and wide-eyed glares.

Though not a perfect production by any means, Marin Shakespeare Company's production of Cymbeline is a delightful opportunity to enjoy a few hours with a group of actors doing all they can to milk the maximum entertainment value out of one of the Bard's most ridiculous plays.

Cymbeline runs through July 26, 2015, at the Forest Meadows Amphitheatre, 890 Belle Avenue, San Rafael. The play is presented on Fridays, Saturdays, and select Sundays. Specific performance days can be found (and tickets ordered) at Tickets are $35 general, $32 for seniors and $10 for anyone under 25. "Pay Your Age" is offered to audience members between the ages of 26 and 35 when purchasing tickets at the box office on the day of any performance, with valid identification.

- Patrick Thomas

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