The fairy tale journey that occurs between "Once upon a time" and "they all lived happily ever after" has never been as circuitous as in William Shakespeare's CYMBELINE. Before the hero, or in this case the heroine, can reach her happy ending she must travel a great distance disguised as a boy, overcome being poisoned and left for dead, recover from the shock of waking up next to a decapitated body she thinks is her husband, and prove that she’s virtuous even though a notorious womanizer spent the night in her bedroom.
Overcoming any one of these difficulties could easily validate her as a gentlewoman of brave mettle so it begs the question…why would Shakespeare go to such great lengths to test her? And why would he pull so many references from his earlier works (Lear and his daughter Cordelia, the ambitious Lady M, Iago and the jealous Othello) and fill this late Romance with such an abundance of genres – comedy, tragedy, horror, and fantasy…even bordering on the absurd at times?
Ponder these questions when you watch A Noise Within's CYMBELINE and see what conclusions you draw, for as disparate as the many elements can seem, they also somehow make perfect sense. Welcome to the human race where life is complicated and messy, and the potential for good and evil exists within each of us; where you must earn your rewards by meeting whatever challenge life throws in your path, and where you learn that you can’t gain wisdom without growing up.
Director Bart DeLorenzo interprets this jumble of oddities as a literary fairy tale and, in doing so, presents them in a way that is understandable and quite often, a delight. On a stage that looks like a bookplate from a Fairy Tale Anthology come to life, an opening tableau and scene establishes the relationships between characters and sets the magical tone. As the play continues, all but one actor will flip back and forth between two characters – one good, one not so good – as DeLorenzo also explores the fine line between good and evil. It's a device that works wonderfully well and is effortlessly executed by his cast.
Adam Haas Hunter changes back and forth between the foppish, spoiled Cloten and honest lover Posthumus so successfully that you may not even realize they are the same person. By the time Cloten gets his comeuppance at the hands of Guiderius (a very likeable Jarrett Sleeper), it is in one of the most hilarious fight scenes Ken Merckx has created for A Noise Within. Sleeper and Paul David Story, who plays his twin Arviragus, never cease their roughhousing which genuinely expresses their brotherly affection for each other and is often quite funny. As the disguised Imogen (Helen Sadler) happens upon the cave in which they live, they heartily welcome the fair youth into their playful world as a third brother. The youthful innocence Sadler brings to Imogen fits especially well with the humor of these scenes
Francia DiMase crosses genders to play the boys' father (Belarius), more distracting than believable for me, but her shrewd Queen is deliciously two-faced. Andrew Elvis Miller is mostly convincing as the scheming Italian Iachimo but the pacing of the bedroom scene is slow and played so obviously for laughs that it has the opposite effect. Time Winters' graceful handling of the text is understated and effortless while he thoughtfully searches for an alternative solution to a loyal servant's difficult problem.
Luxurious costumes, diverse innuendo-filled music, and distinctive lighting effects make this a visually rich production and another triumph by ANW’s production team.
CYMBELINE’s final scene wraps up this vast array of characters and situations with an extended series of revelations, each one more comical than the last. Lovers are reunited, villains die, families are restored, and enemies are spared. By the time the game is up, the magic of DeLorenzo’s storybook journey brings the audience to an unforgettable happily ever after, and leaves us all a little bit wiser than when we began.
Through November 18, A Noise Within, 3352 East Foothill Blvd, Pasadena, CA 91107. Single tickets $40 – $52, Groups (10 or more) starting at $25, Student Groups (10 or more) $16 – $20. Tickets & information at (626) 356-3100, www.anoisewithin.org.
Pictured above: Jarrett Sleeper (Guiderius) and Adam Haas Hunter (Cloten)
Photo credit: Craig Schwartz
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