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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

‘Cymbeline’ stands strong, but doesn’t amaze

Published: April 27, 2012
Section: Arts, Etc.

A later work of William Shakespeare’s, “Cymbeline,” which is simultaneously considered a romance and a tragedy, tells the story of Imogen (Gabrielle Geller ’12), princess of Britain and daughter of King Cymbeline (Andrew Prentice ’13), and her banished lover Posthumus (Stephanie Karol ’12). In the play, it comes to light that Imogen’s stepmother, Queen Hareth (Alison Thvedt ’15), has been manipulating Cymbeline and tearing apart his family in order to get Imogen to marry her oafish son Cloten (Ben Federlin ’14), thereby securing him as the future king of Britain. The drama unfolds, through the usual series of Shakespearean trickery and misunderstanding. Posthumus becomes convinced that Imogen has been unfaithful, sparking a series of accidental forest run-ins, attempted revenge murders and various deceptions of identity, eventually culminating in the reunion of King Cymbeline’s shattered family.

Even though “Cymbeline” is very much a standard Shakespearean story, Lenny Somervell ’12 made a subtle but important change to the play for her senior project. In this production, Posthumus is not only played by a woman but is in fact portrayed as a woman, increasing the barriers that others have put up between Posthumus and her lover Imogen. The modification of such a relationship certainly modernizes the play but does not shift the show’s central focus to being a play about gender and sexuality. In the end, the decision to portray Posthumus as a woman adds an interesting new element to “Cymbeline,” making it more relevant (despite being set in the rather distant past) without changing the show’s central focus. And, after all, why would it? “Cymbeline” is ultimately (as discussed in the show’s playbill) a story about love in all its forms, be it romantic or familial.

Performed in Ridgewood Commons, “Cymbeline” worked within a limited space and with limited opportunity for set. What pieces they did have were put to good use, however, and the two main settings of the show (the forest and the king’s court) were simply and cleverly differentiated. Despite the lack of a complete set, enough was done to show the change in setting to prevent undue confusion. A more complex set would have been welcome, but the group clearly did excellently within the constraints of the resources they were given. Additionally, the costuming was very well done, effectively grounding the actors in their parts and within the setting of the play as a whole.

Overall, the acting throughout “Cymbeline” was quite strong. Particularly impressive was the tender relationship portrayed between Posthumus and Imogen played by Karol and Geller respectively. Primarily through body language, the two created a truly heart-wrenching picture of affection and devotion. This was particularly poignant at the end of the play, when the two were finally reunited and thus came to understand the falsehoods that created tension between them in the first place. Similarly memorable was Federlin as Cloten. Though Cloten is not the largest part that “Cymbeline” has to offer, Federlin’s portrayal was subtle and amusing. Also of note is Alex Davis ’15 as Iachimo, the Italian nobleman who seeks to tear apart Posthumus and Imogen for a bet. He played Iachimo with quite the dramatic flair, which was at times very funny but grew slightly tiresome as the play wore on.

Perhaps the best part of “Cymbeline” was the final scene, in which the love that had been so endlessly challenged throughout the story was at last allowed to come to fruition, as Posthumus was accepted into the king’s court as Imogen’s wife and the king himself was at last reunited with his lost sons (a subplot of the play), Guiderius and Arviragus (Samantha LeVangie ’15 and Sari Holt ’15 respectively). The scene was full of poignant emotion, as each actor seemed to bring out his or her full ability. Ultimately, it was a highly touching resolution that the cast gave full justice. Although the play seemed to drag at points, especially toward the middle, the strength of the final scene certainly compensated for that weakness.

The director’s note in the playbill of this production of “Cymbeline” opened by telling the audience that “Cymbeline” is, in many ways, a play about the things we do for love.” This is truly an apt distillation of the play, and one which the cast and crew have clearly put great effort into portraying. I think it can be said that the goal of performing a play about love was certainly achieved. Although certain love-centered sub-plots at times felt slightly lost, the overall message finally came together very neatly, as the family of King Cymbeline was brought together, free of Queen Hareth’s manipulations. Although it had its flaws, the show overall was strong and enjoyable. I look forward to seeing more of them in the future.