Andy and I went to see Cymbeline last night at Shakespeare & Company in the Berkshires. I read the play on Kindle before going, which made it much easier for me with my bad hearing–the plot summaries make this one sound really ridiculous, as do all plot summaries of Shakespeare’s romances and comedies, but this one is unusually so with an actual deus ex machina (Jupiter on an eagle) and tons of recycled plot material from his other plays (Othello with a happy ending), and unexplained motivations and settings.
Reading the actual words, though, reminds you that Shakespeare's language is a delight even on his off days, and you get some of the bawdy jokes you might miss otherwise.
I found, as always, the ensemble playing at S&Co. to be splendid: everyone played several parts, often changing clothes on stage (Nigel Gore was especially terrific at this going from a Roman general with a really big Captain’s helmet to a doctor with hair and shades that made him look like Howard Stern to a pretend rustic-actually-a-banished general). Jonny Epstein was having a good time as Cymbeline himself as well as a hangman and a Roman aesthete who carried around a white stuffed cat that occasionally wore a little gold helmet. My surprise favorite was a young, first season actor named Ella Loudon. She's a big, strong young woman (look up her pedigree!) who does both a bland lady-in-waiting and a totally believable wild warrior prince. I could go on.
The stage was full of action and color and funny Scotch plaid fans plus all the jokes–but somehow the ridiculously unmerited sad moments were moving. One amazing scene ran between burlesque and horror--this was Josh Aaron McCabe as Iachimo (called by one reviewer the cut-rate Iago) in Imogen’s bedroom thinking about ravishing her as she sleeps, but in the end just taking her bracelet and looking under her breast for a mole. Very creepy.
Anyhow, I sometimes think Sh & Co. does better with these somewhat lesser plays than with the biggies–I know they are strongest on the ones that depend on the ensemble rather than on name actors. Everyone has their own ideas for Hamlet, of course, so Cymbeline perhaps has more room for creativity.
This was one of my favorites.