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January 13, 2011 Comments Off on Review: Chamber Cymbeline is an odd night of Shakespeare. Views: 1283 #Theater and Stage, Arts & Entertainment, Reviews, Stage

Review: Chamber Cymbeline is an odd night of Shakespeare.

Review: Chamber Cymbeline by William Shakespeare. Adapted by the Company. Produced by Seattle Shakespeare Company. Directed by Henry Woronicz. With Larry Paulsen, Jeanne Paulsen, Jennifer Lee Taylor, Connor Toms, Bradford Farwell. At Center House Theatre at Seattle Center now through January 30.

Connor Toms as Posthumus and Jennifer Lee Taylor as Imogen. Photo: Eric Stuhaug.

Cymbeline is the funny, little Shakespeare play that few people have read, or seen. Stephanie Shine, the artistic director for Seattle Shakespeare Company, in her opening remarks/shut off your cell phone speech before the play asked the audience to raise their hands if they had never attended a production of Cymbeline. At least 90% of the audience, myself included, raised their hands. I’m guessing the other 10% were too lazy or arthritic to play along. NO ONE knows this play. It’s the oddly titled Shakespeare work that most theater students have heard of, but few have read. There’s a good reason for that. Even the most devout of Shakespeare scholars have issues with Cymbeline. It’s a later work, but unlike most of Shakespeare’s other late works, it’s unpolished and strangely plotted. Many believe the play was either unfinished, a collaboration with another writer, a satire of Shakespeare’s other works, or some combination of the above. In his printed Director’s Note in the program, director Henry Woronicz dryly called it an example of “Shakespeare’s Greatest Hits”. There’s concealed identities, disguises, mistaken identity, cross-dressing, child snatching, near rape, false suicides, real suicides, beheadings, murderous queens, stubborn kings, and lovers parted unjustly. The only thing missing is a Moor, a Fairy and John Falstaff. It’s a hodge-podge of characters and plots, many of which are dropped along the way, and the entire messy story is all very un-neatly wrapped up in the last 10 minutes of the play. It’s so ludicrous, it’s actually great fun.

It helps that the company has adapted the play; moving scenes around, eliminating some scenes and even changing, combining, and eliminating characters and plot to streamline and tidy up the loose ends. Purists might be appalled, but it all seems to work to the benefit of this production. While I thought the play started out a bit slow and confusing, (and, I admit, being completely unaware of the plot didn’t help matters), and not every bit worked for me, and a couple of the performances were a bit too broad, overall, by the end of the night I was rather pleased with the production as a whole. The director, and, I’m guessing principle dramaturge for this production, Henry Woronicz has done an outstanding job of creating a nearly coherent story out of the mass of contrived plot lines and messy characterizations and fashioned a clever conceit of a “chamber piece” play performed by the Players for the amusement of its onlookers.  He’s aided by the deep focus set designed by Carol Wolfe Clay, (a nice change from the many Seattle Shakes shows that only use the very front of their stage) and the sharp sound/music design by Brendan Patrick Hogan and the simple, but effective costumes of Pete Rush that used texture rather than opulence to relate the personalities of the characters. The strong cast of actors, led by husband and wife duo Larry Paulsen and the Tony nominated Jeanne Paulsen were also a huge asset with fine support from Bradford Farwell as the resident villain of the piece, Iachimo.

Who’s this for? Shakespeare fanboys/girls. Theater nerds.

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