Published March 1, 2013 at 2:02am
Song mash-ups are familiar in pop culture. But in one of William Shakespeare’s lesser-known plays, “Cymbeline,” the literary great created a mash-up of our favorite fairy tales tropes, as well as elements from his better-known plays.
With a talented cast and inventive direction by Brent Gibbs, Arizona Repertory Theatre’s new production, “Cymbeline,” will entice all types of audience members, from gushing romantics to action addicts and comedic connoisseurs.
This “romance,” which centers on the love of Imogen and Posthumus, includes beheadings, mistaken identities, women dressed as men, poison, ghosts, sex, ferocious explosions and battle scenes. It even has a barbershop quartet that steals the show, proving the tremendous talent of ART in one brief tune.
ART did wonders with the play’s mystifyingly twisted plot and roller coaster of emotions. The versatility of the play and actors allowed them to tackle it successfully.
“It’s still a tale as old as time and extremely familiar,” said Stephanie Berman, a theatre production senior.
Berman is the dramaturge for “Cymbeline,” a role that many theatergoers know nothing about. As dramaturge, it’s her job to promote the play and reinforce the story while also highlighting historical elements.
Although “Cymbeline” was written in the 17th century, Gibbs’ directorial concept reconcieves the story in a World War I setting. Prior to rehearsal, Berman produced a packet for the actors full of resources about the time period, the social setting, ways of walking and talking and more. During one rehearsal, she and the cast even experimented with “mustard gas” and music from the World War I period.
Besides “living in the Shakespearean times in thought and mind” during pre-production, as part of her senior capstone project, Berman used Instagram, Twitter and Facebook to show behind the scenes of “Cymbeline”. From tech calls and cue-to-cues to dress rehearsals, Berman has archived it all with the aid of social media.
“It’s a great show to go out on,” said Sean Meshew, a musical theatre senior graduating in May. “I loved the process and my character and working with so many people.”
Meshew, known for his role as Uncle Peck in last fall’s “How I Learned to Drive,” plays the king’s doctor in “Cymbeline.” He begins “Cymbeline” by providing exposition about the past and present within the world of the play. It is well worth paying attention to; otherwise you could be lost from the very beginning.
“It’s a different animal being the narrator instead of the lead, because 95 percent of my lines are explanation,” Meshew said.
Many of the minor characters, like Meshew’s, give the audience insight into what is happening so they don’t feel lost.
“Cymbeline”’s characters are well-developed by both the playwright and the actors.
Imogen, played by theatre production sophomore Brooke Hartnett, is Shakespeare’s perfected female character. She is heroic yet dainty, charismatic yet reserved. She is sensible, consistent and remains faithful to her husband, so that the audience cannot help but feel for her losses throughout the play.
The play keeps the audience’s attention by varying movement, choreography and lighting, and with a multi-leveled set that reveals mountainside caves, secret passageways, spiral staircases and castle walls.
“Shakespeare isn’t something to be afraid of,” said Meshew. “The story is something anyone can enjoy, and our production tells it well.”
Audiences fill the Tornabene Theatre for the same reasons they filled the Globe Theatre — for the characters and storylines that made Shakespeare famous.
In the end, both Shakespeare and Gibbs prove they have the talent and skill to bring loose ends, six subplots and a cast of 25 together into a performance anyone can appreciate and be entertained by for all two and half hours.