Vicki Paris Goodman
A teency stage; a cleverly designed, versatile set; fabulous costumes; and a troupe of actors with heart are all the Long Beach Shakespeare Company has. They are also all it seems to need to put on a spectacle that would make the Bard proud.
As Shakespeare plays go, the rather obscure Cymbeline is tough to classify. Just when you think you are seeing a romantic tragedy, a line of dialogue makes you laugh out loud. So is it a comedy? Not exactly that, either.
Let’s not forget the presence of a wicked stepmother a la Snow White, but who, in this production, dons double-pointed, jewel-encrusted headgear reminiscent of that worn by the malevolent stepsisters from the 1965 movie version of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. So maybe it’s best not to attempt to categorize Cymbeline, but to enjoy it on its own terms.
Director Helen Borgers took on quite a project with Cymbeline, given the various settings represented within the scant 250-square-foot performance space, not to mention the technical challenges and a battle scene. Yes, a battle scene, and an exciting one at that!
Cymbeline finds the otherwise benevolent British King Cymbeline (Bob Rodriguez) too heavily influenced by his ill-intended Queen (Rae Andrada). Jealous of Cymbeline’s daughter, the beautiful and well adjusted Imogen (Fiona Austin), the Queen seeks to arrange Imogen’s demise. (Boo, hiss…)
In spite of the Queen’s plan for Imogen to have married her son, the character-deficient Cloten (Tim Kiser), Imogen has made a love match with a far more worthy man with the curious name of Posthumus (Seann Atkinson). The two have married, and happily. That is, until the gentleman Iachimo (Kevin Alai) challenges Posthumus to a bet that he can seduce the faithful Imogen. He can’t, but he makes Posthumus believe that he has.
There are cases of mistaken identity, not the least of which has Imogen and Posthumus thinking the other is dead. (Romeo and Juliet, anyone?) There is a long-ago exiled lord (Mark John Bowen) who, out of revenge for his undeserved banishment, had kidnapped Cymbeline’s two sons (Nate Clute and Randi Tahara) as infants and raised them as his own.
When Cymbeline tires of paying “protection money” to avoid war with the Romans, the Roman General (Shanae Humphrey) is happy to oblige. Hence, the aforementioned battle scene.
Julie Kirkman and Diana DeVille finish up the roster of cast members, each taking on a number of roles.
The only downside to this production is that some of the actors speak too fast and fail to enunciate, thereby asking the audience to decipher Shakespeare’s often difficult dialogue with unintelligible phrases thrown in, to boot. Fortunately, main characters tended to be more sympathetic to our plight. Anticipating the unfamiliar story might be hard to follow, however, I read a synopsis online before going to the theater. Unless you are a well-versed fan of the Bard, you may want to do the same.
What makes Cymbeline especially unusual is the ending. The story wraps up far too neatly and blissfully, with badly behaved characters out of the way, Cymbeline coming to his senses, and everyone living happily ever after. But before you roll your eyes, understand that Shakespeare has elevated the play’s conclusion by infusing it with lessons of remorse, bravery, nobility, and forgiveness.
You will leave the theater smiling.
Cymbeline, a production of the Long Beach Shakespeare Company, continues at the Richard Goad Theatre through Saturday, Sept. 28. General-admission tickets are $20; student tickets are $10. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, with Sunday matinees at 2pm. The Richard Goad Theatre is located at 4250 Atlantic Ave. Call (562) 997-1494 for reservations and information. Tickets are also available at lbshakespeare.org .