Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Shakespeare For A New Audience

Anyone who avoids Shakespeare because they find his plays confusing or inaccessible should check out Fiasco Theater's Cymbeline (presented by Theatre For A New Audience). The play, one of Shakespeare's "romances" that does not fit neatly into the category of comedy, tragedy, or history, is considered difficult to stage, but you'd never know it from this production, directed by Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld. You only have until January 30 to catch this show at The New Victory Theatre, so I suggest you make it a priority.

The production begins with the cast informing the audience to turn off their cell phones, unwrap their candies, and the like via song. Immediately, we are in the playful mindset of the production. The basic premise is that the King Cymbeline of Britain (Andy Grotelueschen) had three children from his first marriage, but believes only his daughter, Imogen (Jessie Austrian), to still be alive. What he doesn't know is that his two sons have been raised in a cave by Belaria (Emily Young), who kidnapped them after being wrongly accused of treason. Cymbeline's second wife (Young) wants Imogen to marry her son Cloten (Grotelueschen), but Imogen marries Posthumus Leonatus (Brody) in secret. When Cymbeline finds out, he banishes him from the kingdom. It may sound like a tangled web of a plot, but performed by this six-actor troupe, it is remarkably easy to follow.

The play is much funnier than Shakespeare probably intended. The double- and triple-casting of characters and the use of not much more than a few wooden crates as props and set (Jean-Guy Lecat is credited with scenic design) serve to illustrate the ridiculousness of certain aspects of the play, especially the ending, in which all of the characters appear to tie up loose ends. However, this production is not a parody, and not everything is played for laughs. The emotions, such as Imogen's love for her husband, are genuine. The balance is a theatrical feat in itself--contrast the tender relationship between Imogen and her brothers (played by Steinfeld and Paul L. Coffey) to the laughs that Steinfeld rightfully earns as Iachimo, the Italian who bets Posthumus that he can seduce his wife.

A few days before seeing Cymbeline, I saw Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark, which is playing at the theater next door. I hope that theatergoers who find themselves sold out of Spider-Man will make their way to The New Victory. They may miss out on a mess of a spectacle, but they will be able to see how theater can be even more magical when at its barest.

Photo credit: Gerry Goodstein

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