Despite a minor resurgence in popularity, Cymbeline is still among the dozen rarely performed plays in the Bard's canon. This is attributable to a number of issues that, for most scholars and directors, relegate the story to the "problematic" category. In light of this, it's always compelling to see how a new production handles the task.

Photo of Robert Colpitts as Cymbeline, Phil Canzano as Belarius, Elizabeth Christine Tanner as Imogen, and Tahni DeLong as Queen
Left to Right; Back to Front:
Robert Colpitts as Cymbeline,
Phil Canzano as Belarius,
Elizabeth Christine Tanner
as Imogen, and Tahni
DeLong as Queen
Photo Credit: Lou Costy
The Colorado Shakespeare Festival's current production has been imported by Joel G. Fink, the longtime casting director for the festival, who originally staged the show at Roosevelt University in Chicago. In his notes, Fink takes notice of the tragi-comedic or romantic nature of the piece, a genre that was popular at the time in both England and Spain.

By Stratfordian orthodoxy, this style places the play late in the playwright's career, as a prelude to The Winter's Tale and The Tempest. However, the mixed nature of the writing and relatively recent scholarship on the authorship question, i.e. the Oxfordian position, support the notion that Cymbeline is an early play that was later reworked.

The CSF production begins in a presentational style, with the actors arranged on steeply raked steps that run across the entire width of the indoor stage. They quickly recount the events that have led to the current crisis in the court of Cymbeline, a British king modeled on Cunobelinus, who ruled around the time of the Roman Emperor Claudius.

Gradually, however, this style is abandoned, and an entirely different acting approach is introduced by Iachimo, a visiting Roman. After intermission, comedic elements begin to appear and increase in frequency until the entire texture of the production is transformed, as if we were witnessing two entirely different plays.

Photo of Elizabeth Christine Tanner as Imogen
Elizabeth Christine
Tanner as Imogen
Photo Credit: Lou Costy
Imogen, the daughter of Cymbeline, is despised by her stepmother, the unnamed Queen, who covets the throne for her son (Cloten) by a previous marriage. When Cymbeline's secret marriage to Posthumus (an orphaned nobleman raised by Cymbeline) is discovered, the king banishes Posthumus. Posthumus then makes his way to Rome, which is at war with Britain.

As in so many of the plays which mirror the unfortunate marriage of the assumed playwright (Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford), Iachimo (like Iago of Othello, Don John of Much Ado, etc.) convinces Posthumus that Imogen has been unfaithful to him, setting in motion a series of events that try the protagonists.

Imogen is one of the strongest women in all of the Shakespearean comedies, a composite of the virtues of Portia, Beatrice, Rosalind, Viola. She has undaunted courage, yet is victimized nonetheless. Elizabeth Christine Tanner's Imogen maximizes all the character's admirable qualities, providing the anchor for the storyline.

Photo of Will Hare as Posthumus and Elizabeth Christine Tanner as Imogen
Will Hare as Posthumus and
Elizabeth Christine Tanner as Imogen
Photo Credit: Lou Costy
Posthumus is likely the playwright in disguise: He is noble, has martial aptitude, was raised as a royal ward, has a difficult marriage, and can be outrageously selfish. While Will Hare skillfully navigates Posthumus' contradictory natures, and doubles as the possessed Cloten, he generates little chemistry with Tanner, lapsing into a presentational style when it is least called for.

Photo of Phil Canzano as Belarius
Phil Canzano as Belarius
Photo Credit: Lou Costy
Timothy W. Hull as Iachimo and Phil Canzano as Belarius provide great character work, freed from the formality assigned to Cymbeline and the Queen. Tenor Zachary Ford's renditions of a couple of Renaissance airs are moving, bolstering the period feel. A couple of scenes are particularly noteworthy for their staging, including Posthumus' ghostlike appearance to read his letter to Imogen, and the multimedia treatment used to evoke the battle scene.

Ultimately, though, Fink's staging leaves us wondering what might have been if the mix of acting styles had been present throughout, or if he had simply stuck to realism. The Colorado Shakespeare Festival's Cymbeline runs through August 15th in repertory with Much Ado About Nothing, The Taming of the Shrew, and Hamlet in the Mary Rippon Outdoor Theatre at the University of Colorado. 303-492-0554.

Bob Bows


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