August 3, 2019

in Plays

Play (1611)
by William Shakespeare

Directed by Fred Sullivan, Jr.

Commonwealth Shakespeare Company
Boston Common, Boston
July 17 – August 4, 2019

Scenic Design: Jessica Hill, Patrick Lynch; Costume Design: Elisabetta Polito; Lighting Design: Eric Southern; Sound Design: Peter Hurowitz; Composer/Music Director: Milly Massey; Fight Director: Nile Hawver; Production Manager: Renee E. Yancy; Production Stage Manager: Kevin Schlagle

With Tony Estrella (King Cymbeline), Nora Eschenheimer (Princess Imogen), Jeanine Kane (Queen), Kelby T. Akin (Cloten), Daniel Duque-Estrada (Posthumus Loenatus), Remo Airaldi (Pisanio), Erika Anclade (Helen), Mihir Kumar (Cornelius), Nigel Richards (Lord), John Hardin (Lord), Chet R. Davino (Lord, Ghost of Brother), Rodney Witherspoon II (Officer), Zachary Gibb (Officer, Roman Captain), John Hardin (Officer), Brian Pollock (Frenchman, Officer), Ashley Knaack (Lady of Court), Sarah Vasilevsky (Lady of Court, Ghost of Mother), Richard Noble (Philario), Jesse Hinson (Iachimo, Jupiter)), Gunnar Manchester (Caius Lucius), Gregory Hermann (Philharmonius, Ghost of Brother), Tom Gleadow (Belarius), Jonathan Higginbotham (Guiderius), Michael Underhill (Arviragus), Armand Lane (Ghost of Sicilius Leonatus)

Henry Singleton (1766-1839),'Scene ii Act IV from Cymbeline by William Shakespeare'

Henry Singleton (1766-1839)
“Scene ii Act IV from Cymbeline by William Shakespeare”

A lively and invigorating production of the late Shakespearean romance which is seasoned with touches from all over Shakespeare.

Cymbeline (Tony Estrella) is a British king who has a daughter, Imogen (Nora Eschenheimer), who has married Posthumus Leonatus (Daniel Duque-Estrada), to his considerable displeasure. Married for a second time himself to a conniving queen (Jeanine Kane), he is now subject to her pressure to have Imogen lined up with her doofus son Cloten (Kelby T. Akin), but Imogen will have none of it.

Posthumus gets banished to Italy where here gets into a wager about Imogen’s fidelity. Iachimo (Jesse Hinson), with whom he has wagered, returns to Britain to try to seduce Imogen, and though she doesn’t show interest, he fakes the results to win his bet. And it goes on!

Two kidnapped sons of the king, Guiderius (Jonathan Higginbotham) and Arviragus (Michael Underhill), live in Wales and wind up encountering Imogen who has cross-dressed in an attempt to find Posthumus and helping the British to defeat the Romans in battle. There are potions as well, and plenty of other shenanigans, including a beheading.

This late play by Shakespeare is not frequently performed, perhaps because it represents such a grab bag of dramatic devices that it almost seems like a satire on Shakespeare rather than a work by him. There’s a lot in here that’s tragic, but it’s all set in a comic context, which makes it sit with the other less easily categorized Shakespearean works. One consequently does not really laugh at the beheading when it occurs because it’s not conveyed as real. On the other hand, there’s enough seriousness in the play to consider it not exactly comedic.

This production, free to the public on the Boston Common, is beautifully done. Directed by Fred Sullivan, Jr., well known for his contributions as a Shakespearean actor but not so well known as a director, has done a superb job of rendering a production that is entertaining, dynamic and convincing. The production values are excellent overall and, with good acting all around, there are a good number of truly excellent performances.

Music, composed by Milly Massey, is used effectively and frequently throughout with several choruses presented by the full cast. They are capably performed and invigorating punctuations for the many varied, abundant and sometimes almost ridiculous turns of the plot. Supplementary sound design by Peter Hurowitz is also very well done, and lighting by Eric Southern is expertly conceived as well. Stage choreography is effective and to the point, enlivening the goings-on seamlessly.

Many of the costumes, designed by Elisabetta Polito, are evocative of the early twentieth century, but there are also Roman centurion outfits, and everything is colorfully and interestingly conceived. Even Imogen’s cross-dressing hairdo and outfit are done tastefully.

Though the play is named after him, the role of Cymbeline is more or less one of support. Tony Estrella puts in good time doing it, but it’s not as front and center as others.

As Imogen, Nora Eschenheimer is excellent, forceful and witty, becoming even moreso when she has to play a young fellow romping with her soon-to-be-discovered-as brothers, Guiderlius (Jonathan Higginbotham) and Arviagus (Michael Underhill). They are also excellent, with a lot of acrobatics perking things up.

As the roguish Iachimo, Jesse Hinson is a total gas. He is wild, flamboyant, full of outlandish gestures, and completely engaging as an essentially unlikable character.

In small roles, Brian Pollock as a Frenchman makes a vivid and convincing turn and Mihir Kumar as a doctor with just a few lines drew significant applause because of the ingenious pizzazz with which he delivered them.

Kelby T. Aken as the doofus son Cloten is very funny, and Remo Airaldi as the dutiful but manipulated Pisario does his usual fine job.

The cleverness of the beheading scene is really something – very nicely done, if one can believe that.

It’s kind of fun to watch this play and pick out all of the devices that get used here but which show up prominently in other Shakespeare plays. Cymbeline himself is a bit of a King Lear type, tragically confused at the outset and somewhat wiser at the end. The potion which makes Imogen look dead but only puts her to sleep is right out of Romeo and Juliet. Imogen’s cross-dressing is a steal from Twelfth Night. The heavenly dream sequence seems inspired by A Midsummer Night’s Dream. And that’s only the beginning.

Overall: a wonderfully staged and beautifully acted and directed production of one of The Bard’s lesser, later plays, but done so well that that doesn’t seem to matter.

In addition to its annual show on Boston Common, Commonwealth Shakespeare Company produces throughout the year, frequently doing non-Shakespeare plays. I saw a production of a couple of Caryl Churchill plays by them last season – really wacky, interesting stuff – that were wonderfully executed. Check out their site for upcoming productions.

– BADMan

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