The end of Cymbeline unravels 19 plot points by my count one right after another. It's like being at a bar sitting through some guy's three hour set up for a 19-punch-line joke. I do love a good long set up, and as long as the wine is flowing, what the hell. Whether you're reading it or watching a performance, if you can slog through the first four and four-fifth acts, the ending is a hoot.
I think the director's job in Cymbeline is to make sure everyone can keep it up right through the end; the resolutions need punch to prompt our laughter as it all just gets so silly and the ending is entirely happy. ("Oh, I forgot to tell you! I gave the queen fake poison." "Hey, he's a girl! And our sister!" "Oh, I can tell you that. I killed him." "Hey King, I stole your kids after you were such an asshole to me. Here's the bill for raising them." "Thanks for saving my life and all, but I have something better to do than save yours right now." "The soldier who saved your life? Yeah, that was me." And on and on.)
|Anthony Heald as Dr. Cornelius and Robin Goodrin Nordli|
as The Queen in OSF's production of Cymbeline. OSF
photo by T. Charles Erickson.
Director Bill Rauch's Cymbeline at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival was high-energy, even on a cold night, between raindrops, to a half empty house as relatively few of us braved the elements for a rarely produced Shakespeare play. The cast wrung belly laughs out of the small, damp audience. I even got a kick out of the silly costumes. Seriously, I never seem to know what the designers are thinking when it comes to costumes at OSF. It seems like they do stuff just because they can. This year, they apparently had a bucket of pointy ears to use up donated from the set of Lord of the Rings. I suppose it was all a bit of pop-culture-reference fun, as there were also broad references to Disney's Snow White and other iconic fairy tales.
I have no complaints about any of the performances. Everyone played their symbolic and one-dimensional characters to the hilt and all were thoroughly entertaining. I am going to call out Robin Goodrin Nordli as the wicked queen. We know she has comedic chops; lately, though, she's been delicious playing Shakespeare's evil women: a note-perfect Lady Macbeth a couple years ago and a particularly revolting Regan in this year's King Lear. The nameless queen in Cymbeline is the archetype of myths, and she plays it up to be the stuff of childhood nightmares after reading too many Grimm's fairy tales.
Also, Peter Frechette was terrific as the royal interpreter of American Sign Language (ASL) to Howie Seago's Cymbeline; skillful and often moving, without competing with Seago's fine performance. I loved what they did with ASL—in particular, having the wicked queen and her horrid son Cloten (a hilarious Al Espinosa) communicate with Cymbeline in gross, hackneyed hand gestures, clearly never having bothered to learn his language even as they joined his family, while those who love and are loyal to him never fail to communicate in proper and fluent ASL when Cymbeline is present, even when he's being a dick.
I suspect Rauch chose to do Cymbeline in the same year as King Lear to highlight the relationships between parents and children, their duties and loyalties to each other. In this spirit, Rauch expanded on Shakespeare's apparitions, adding ghost moms for Imogen and the princes in addition to the ghosts of Posthumus Leonatus's parents. That's fine. It didn't detract, but I can't read too terribly much depth into Cymbeline no matter how many dead parents you throw in. Shakespeare wasn't covering any new ground with this one. Indeed, it's a bit of a pastiche as shadows of finer characters from Shakespeare's career make a curtain call. With Cymbeline, it's best to go big or go home, and OSF went big for an entertaining, satisfying evening.