Shakespeare plays often conjure images of kings and fools delivering heart-wrenching monologues in colorful tights. While Cymbeline has a king and a monologue, it did not share the usual heavy-handed quality of the Bard’s most well-known plays. The intimate, heartwarming performance makes Cymbeline cross from the realm of out-of-touch objet d’art to the arena of a relatable modern fairy tale. As I sat watching the prat falls, fight scenes and moments of heart-wrenching loss, I felt that I could relate to the characters while still feeling the impact of the fast-moving plot.
As one of the Bard’s lesser-known romances, Cymbeline will not be featured in any Taylor Swift songs in the near future, but it still has many classic Shakespearean oddities to offer. It's the classic angry and violent ruler whose daughter Imogen loves a man that the king hates (sound familiar?). After a secret wedding, a banishment, a bet, a disguise and other assorted plot devices, order is restored. Imogen’s suitor/stepbrother is killed, the war is over, the witch is dead, and Cymbeline’s family gains two sons. The original play may not be Shakespeare’s longest, but it is his most action-packed. It combines elements from many of his tragedies and comedies, while adding new spins on old tropes, like faking death and cross-dressing.
The road to producing such a fantastic version of this Shakespearean epic was a long one. Producer Shannon Desmond and director Phoebe Brooks, both Communication juniors, began work on Cymbeline last May, with most of the production team joining them around six months ago, according to Desmond. The show is also a first for most of the production team. Desmond and Brooks are both new to their respective positions, although they have been involved in student theater in other capacities. Additionally, the show’s lighting designer (Joe Entenman), set designer (Megan Wines), and props designer (Melanie Vitaterna) are all freshmen. Desmond described the process as “a learning experience,” and based on the professional, polished quality of the show’s technical aspects, they learned well.
Desmond describes the vision for the play as simply “a fairy tale,” explaining that there's a timeless quality to the set and costumes. On this count, the execution perfectly matches the inspiration. The set is simple, yet elegant, with modifications throughout the show that emphasize the shifts in tone between scenes. The costumes are a sort of timeless, modern haute couture that nods to the avant-garde without being labeled by any particular season or designer. Even the musical interludes between scenes alternate between a modern soundtrack and a classic military march depending on the mood of the play at that point. The overall effect of a relatable, timeless fairy tale is clear without being overdone.
Perhaps the best aspect of Cymbeline, though, is the immediacy with which the cast shifts from horror or rage to perfectly timed sarcastic humor. One minute I'm pining for Posthumous (Communication freshman Daniel Chenard) with Imogen (Bienen sophomore Alana Grossman). As soon as the Queen (fabulously played by Communication senior Casey Wortmann) comes in to give her dark, cryptic quips, though, I'm caught howling in laughter. This type of humor allows Cornelia (played by Communication junior Ashley Nguyen) to steal the show with her intermittent quips about the Queen and her efforts to contain her evil.
From the headless man to the endless “penetration” puns, Cymbeline is a hilarious yet touching fairy tale from start to finish. The mix of sarcasm and heartfelt dialogue make Shakespeare more than a dry right of passage for the English-speaking world and instead into a sincerely witty fairytale.
Cymbeline runs on Thursday Feb. 2 at 8 p.m., Friday Feb. 3 at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m., and Saturday Feb. 4 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. at Shanley Pavilion. Tickets are $10 for the general public and $5 for students.