Cymbeline: a superior production in a rather tricky space.
I’ve read a lot of Shakespeare and seen a little of it, too, but I had no familiarity with Cymbeline before this weekend. The plot itself is formulaic myth: evil stepmothers, poisons that feign death, lost princes and legendary heroes. The Actors’ Shakespeare Project takes this with a healthy dose of post-modern irony which adds a healthy dose of comedy. They also demonstrate a mastery of the language, especially in the context of performance, that makes the story easy to follow.
There’s no one in the cast who doesn’t satisfy. Ken Baltin approaches the title role with thundering dignity in a likable guise – his strong resemblance to Jose Ferrer, not just in appearance but in gravity, serves him well. De’Lon Grant navigates several of Shakespeare’s trickier passages, particularly the poetic declarations of his love’s virtue, with a conversational ease. Risher Reddick takes what could have been a minor role – that of the servant Pisanio – and shines in his trembling eagerness to live up to his master’s esteem. Neil McGarry is a perfect villain – just sleazy enough, and so cocky in his sleaziness that he fascinates us – and his scenes paired against Brooke Hardman are excellent. Hardman herself gives maturity and depth to what could easily be a shrinking lily, woe-is-me female role, and Marya Lowry delivers the commanding tones that ASP regulars can expect of her.
All that would be quite enough, and yet Lockwood casts each actor in multiple roles. So Danny Bryck, for instance, not only gets to carry himself with untouchable dignity as a Roman envoy in a hostile British court, but can pull off a hilarious comic turn as the mad Dr. Cornelius as well. Reddick excels not just as Pisanio but as the boastful younger prince. And while Grant is good enough as the faithful lover Posthumous, it’s as the foppish prince Cloten that he brings the audience to howling laughter.
The one thing lacking is the show space. I’m of course delighted that a performance space has been opened, literally, at the other end of my block. But the Storefront in Davis Square is too bright, low and open. The light’s diffused across the entire theater, rather than focused on the performance area. Sightlines are tricky as well. Lockwood, to his credit, takes advantage of this openness rather than apologizing for it. In any given scene, the unused cast sit off to one side, foleying sound effects for invisible props on stage. A letter opens with a crinkle of paper; a ring slides off a finger with a gentle rattle; the pounding of a drum advances the clash of armies.
Fortunately, the comic timing and commitment of the cast overcome the limitations of the space. Hopefully this will steer some revenue toward the Storefront that’ll improve its aesthetics. In any event, this production of Cymbeline is diverting enough to be worth seeing, regardless of the venue.