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Review: Cymbeline

The New Orleans Shakespeare Festival at Tulane stages one of the Bard’s lesser-seen works



Ancient Britain's King Cymbeline banishes Posthumus Leonatus for secretly marrying his daughter Imogen. Other men pursue her, and in an effort to reunite with her husband, Imogen disguises herself as a man and flees to Wales. In the woods, she stumbles upon a strange trio of men who influence the battle between the courts of Rome and England in Cymbeline, recently presented at the New Orleans Shakespeare Festival at Tulane.

  Cymbeline (James Wright) is being pressured by his new Queen (Liann Pattison) to have Imogen (Erin Cessna) marry the Queen's son, Cloten (Graham Burk). Though the queen is not onstage often, Pattison plays her with a force that commands attention. Burk delivers the show's funniest performance, enhancing his brutishness with physical comedy.

  While contemporary Shakespeare productions often feature updated language or anachronistic settings, director Rob Clare focused on the original text and used minimal props and a spare set to tell the complicated story. Mihai Plaiasu's pared down set featured a backdrop depicting a stone facade that easily served as the wall of a castle courtyard, bed chambers, a cave and a prison.

  When the banished Posthumus (David Huynh) arrives in Italy, he is goaded into a wager by the Italian nobleman Iachimo (Christopher Kelly) over his faraway wife Imogen's beauty and fidelity. It sets up Kelly for one of the production's most interesting performances. Iachimo is smooth talking, an expert manipulator and has the perfect snobbish delivery for a nobleman. Huynh is a dynamic actor, and he's all over the stage, proclaiming the virtues of Imogen and agonizing over their separation. Posthumus and Iachimo eventually come to blows, and the swordfight is one of the show's most lively moments. Posthumus' servant Pisanio (John R. Lewis) also delivers a solid and charming performance as the man who suggests Imogen disguise herself as a man and seek Posthumus.

  The alternately determined and distraught Imogen enters the woods in male garb, and Cessna's energy pushes the story forward. Imogen eventually meets Belarius (Greg Baber), the caretaker of two young men who embrace Imogen as their brother. As plots converge, they encounter the armies of Italy and England, and in a long, climactic scene, almost every character is onstage and called on to account for his or her actions, resulting in humorous, scandalous and unexpected revelations.

  With a runtime of nearly three hours, this lesser-known Shakespeare drama could have been bogged down by its many storylines. But impressive acting and direction made Cymbeline a thoroughly engaging and enjoyable production.

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