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CYMBELINE ON A GRASS KNOLL
Boomerang Theatre in "Cymbeline" on-the-grass in Central Park. Photo by Timothy Errickson.
“Cymbeline” by William Shakespeare, directed by Cailin Heffernan
Produced by Boomerang Theatre at W. 71st St. and Central Park West – in the park, NYC.
June 20-July 19, 2015.
Bring a blanket or chair. For more information: www.boomerangtheatre.org.
Summer in the city is filled with unexpected delights. Who could have imagined that Boomerang’s production of “Cymbeline,” that impossible late comedy by William Shakespeare, could keep its sitting-on-the-grass audience enthralled for almost 2 ½ hours without intermission? Director Cailin Heffernan and her seriously talented cast have worked wonders, and it’s all for free. Voluntary donations gladly accepted.
Cymbeline (Buzz Roddy) is the much deluded king of Britain during Roman occupation. He believes that his beautiful second wife (Annalisa Loeffler) loves him and wants the best for Imogen (Amanda Jones), his daughter and only heir. Cymbeline would like Imogen married to his step-son (Michael Russinik), doubly securing the throne, but she is in love with the impoverished Posthumus (Brian Robert Burns), a real hunk who got his name because he was born after his mother’s death. When Cymbeline discovers their secret wedding, he banishes his son-in-law.
And so begins just one of the many plot complications – double the number in most Shakespearean comedies. Critics have described the play as overstuffed with plots and the whole seems disjoined. Or seemed. Somehow Heffernan made it all make sense. That would have been enough but it is also brilliantly funny, filled with music (by Henry Aronson) and dance and with many sensitive performance which are audible even over the usual traffic of Central Park.
The staging, which sometimes won applause from the audience, is ingenious. Obstacles, like the open-air venue, become opportunities. While Imogen sleeps, Iachimo (Jared Reinmuth), a handsome villain, hides in a trunk in her room in order to prove she is unfaithful and win a diamond ring. This is where the kabuki influence comes in. Three masked actors hold pieces of fabric, which become the trunk he hides in plus the lid. Other masked actors hold up two white sheet, the blanket and pillow on which Imogen rests. Imagination, simplicity and beauty – all at the service of the play. When Imogen flees the castle, she makes her way through a forest of trees – masked actors from whose raised fingers dangle short green streamers, which sometimes move to impede her way. These choices brings a creative vérité to segments that often lose audiences.
The beheading of the queen’s son, the fight sequences (with red Roman berets against black British berets and martial arts moves), Posthumus’s many changes of allegiance (and costumes) are all handled with a grace that transforms dramaturgical flaws into interesting moments.
Another strength of this production is totally engaged actors. When a character weeps, another offers a handkerchief. When characters are on the verge of discovering a secret, they turn to each other before speaking. When the queen’s son is rebuffed by Imogen, he laughs in disbelief. Heffernan cast several minor male roles with women, which re-conceived the dynamic and added nuances. The play was remade without changing dialogue or distorting the action. It all flowed.
Heffernan and costume designer Samantha Newby went for the visual so that the costumes reflected character and were interesting on their own. Imogen, the ingénue, wore a simple pinkish sheath and baby-doll nighty. The evil queen wore a stylish (and metaphorical) black and white gown while the king was in formal military uniform. Pisanio (Vinnie Penna), a faithful servant, wore a dark jacket, much like his master’s. Iachimo’s white suit (and accent) brought sunny Italy to mind. So much individuality yet the choral friezes – and the dances – held the pattern.
In the castle where the queen consults a doctor (Deborah Carlson) about poisons, in the cave where Imogen is rescued by men who will later turn out to be her brothers, in Italy where Posthumus struggles to remove Imogen’s ring which he lost in the bet to Iachimo, and on the battle ground -- you can feel the dedicated teamwork and the firm, delicate directorial touch guiding the play and audience with a rare clarity.
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