The Happiest Medium Review by guest contributors Anjali Koppal and Saurabh Paranjape
Cymbeline is one of those everything-and-the-kitchen-sink Shakespeare dramedies that is very hard to ruin. Between tangled, overcrowded story-lines full of royal intrigue, mistaken identities, mysterious potions, Romans, Italians, Gods and angels, the plot has enough going on at any given point to keep the viewer hooked, even if the performance itself doesn’t always do the material justice.
The plot centers around the young princess Imogen (Rosa Valenze Gilmore), daughter of Cymbeline, King of England (David Arthur Bachrach) who is deeply in love with, and has secretly married, the dashing Posthumus Leonatus (Ross Beshear), a ‘commoner’ of lowly birth. Banished from England for this impudence, Leonatus leaves for Italy, the couple promising to remain forever faithful to each other. While in Italy, Leonatus enters into a reckless bet with a Roman soldier Iachimo (Erick Gonzalez) about Imogen’s fidelity, and back in England the devious Queen (Vivien Landau) and her feckless blowhard of a son Cloten (Jonathan Marballi) hatch their own schemes to usurp the throne and bed Imogen respectively. Oh, and in a distant corner of Wales, a pair of feral brothers Guiderius (Stephen Siano) and Arviragus (Steve Mazzoccone) are about to discover that they are actually Cymbeline’s long lost sons, kidnapped at a tender age by a wronged courtier (Karen Lynn Gorney). And since this is Shakespeare after all, everything must come together neatly in the end, even if it does so in ways you never saw coming.
Cymbeline is not one of Shakespeare’s best known plays, so we didn’t really know what to expect going in. While the story, with its bizarre and unending twists and turns, kept us hooked, by and large the cast and crew seemed unequal to the challenge of bringing the Bard’s work to life for a modern audience. In this production directed by Lynnea Benson, crucial moments were ruined by strange musical choices, forgotten lines and unclear diction (It sounded like there were some beautiful lines of dialogue in there, but we’ll never know).
Not all was despair, however. Ross Beshear, brought some aptly Shakespearean overkill to his performance as the heartbroken Leonatus, and Rosa Valenze Gilmore as Imogen held her own quite well against Beshear’s unrestrained histrionics with an arresting stage presence. The stage was threadbare, but the lighting (designed by Joseph Kehoe) and stage direction made sure it never looked empty. Unfortunately, none of this was enough to distract from a generally flat overall performance.
Everyone involved in Frog and Peach Theater Company’s presentation of Cymbeline brought a refreshing level of excitement and energy to the production, but sadly, the cast just didn’t seem up to the task (maybe it was opening night jitters?). And that’s too bad, because what they are doing is important. It’s like our enthusiastic host said at the end of the play, ‘Shakespeare lives!’, just not so much in this production.
~~~Frog & Peach Theatre Company presents Cymbeline Through Sunday, October 31, 2010Frog & Peach Theatre - Thursdays at 7:30 p.m. Fridays at 7:30 p.m. Saturdays at 7:30p.m. Sundays at 3 p.m. Sunday Matinees are followed by an informal talk-back with cast and Artistic Director. - Tickets are $18 and are now available online at www.smarttix.com or by calling (212) 868-4444. Tickets may also be purchased in-person at the theater ½ hour prior to the performance. Running Time: 2 hours 20 minutes.