Pack a rain poncho so you don't risk missing any of Quantum Theatre's outdoor production of Cymbeline. One of Shakespeare's later plays, this variously labeled tragicomedy/romance has been libeled as a mishmash by such critics as George Bernard Shaw, and treasured (and emulated) by such fans as T.S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf and Stephen Sondheim.
Quantum artistic director Karla Boos has crystallized the farcical aspects of the convoluted plot to focus the theme that no one is as s/he seems, except for the heroine, Imogen (portrayed by Mikelle Johnson). And even she proves a deeper character than the flibbertigibbet we see at the beginning of the play. The chirrupy Johnson grows into the role, weaving the extremes of despair and delight, sensuality and fidelity, femininity and masculinity.
What really makes this Cymbeline work, though, is casting the remaining six actors in some two dozen speaking parts, often as opposite characters. The best example is Sam Turich as Imogen's dashing husband and her would-be ravisher -- hero and villain, both somewhat broadly drawn. His dastardly prince is no less evil for being a buffoon. The play's greatest villains, though, are portrayed by a cross-dressing Mark D. Staley as the scheming Queen, and "straight" as the duplicitous Iachimo.
The tight casting also requires the actors to interact with their alter egos, switching roles with an instant alteration of their costumes. A bit of well-placed Velcro helps David Whalen, as the bombastic title character, argue with the Roman envoy seeking tribute. (Whalen also has a nice turn as the Jovian deus ex machina and as a comic gaoler.) Patrick Jordan and Joel Ripka turn themselves from mountain-men to courtiers or servants -- and back -- with a timely prop. The versatile Rick Kemp brings to life a series of strong, commanding characters of various nationalities. He would certainly win the war.
Susan Tsu's monochromatic costumes easily evoke the characters with a timeless sense of style. Tony Ferrieri's symmetrical, clean and accessible set design helps to turn Mellon Park into a Maxfield Parrish painting.
This production plays up the farcical aspects of Shakepeare's tortuous tale (I won't attempt to describe it, but the program notes cover the basics), and the vagaries of weather may augment the comedy. There are laughs and there is beauty, but Cymbeline is ultimately a satisfying tale of love, adventure and redemption.
Cymbeline continues through Aug. 24. Mellon Park Rose Garden, Fifth Avenue and Beechwood Boulevard, Point Breeze. 412-394-3353 or www.quantumtheatre.com
- Photo courtesy of Heather Mull
- Multiple-role call: Joel Ripka (left), Mikelle Johnson (center) and Patrick Jordan in Quantum Theatre's Cymbeline.