- OnStage Massachusetts Critic
Brown Box Theatre Project is performing its Sixth Annual Free Shakespeare Tour with William Shakespeare’s tragedy Cymbeline. This production is being performed in various locations on the East Coast throughout August and September in the hope of sharing Shakespeare’s work with those who ordinarily may not get to see live theatre. It is a story about love, loss, family, and honor. Cymbeline is the King of Britain whose sons were taken from him when they were infants leaving Cymbeline with only a daughter, Imogen, as heir to his throne. His second wife conspires to wed her son, Cloten, to Imogen in order to gain control of the throne. Imogen is already secretly wed to Posthumus, a young man her father does not fully approve of. Imogen despises Cloten and wants nothing to do with him.
When the marriage of Imogen and Posthumus is discovered by the King, Imogen is imprisoned and Posthumus is banished and must flee to Italy to save his life. Imogen, not wanting to endure Cloten’s advances any longer and afraid she has lost her husband, disguises herself as a boy to escape the country, with help from Posthumus’ servant Pisanio, and finds comfort and company amongst new friends. This story is a tragedy, and has its fair share of sword-fighting, battles and death, yet the play ends happily for most of its characters.
Although this play is performed outdoors, the creative team did a nice job of using modern technology to aid in its telling. The cast wore wireless microphones that fed into a few speakers on either side of the performance area. Original music and sound design by Andrew Paul Jackson also played through the speakers, but at times the volume over powered the lines being spoken. Occasionally, gusts of wind would be picked up by the microphones but that can’t be helped being outdoors. The lighting design by Joey Guthman was simple, using a dozen or so lights, but they were very effective in setting an eerie tone and projecting just enough light for the actors and set to be seen. The set was made of wood and featured various levels for the action to take place including the bare ground in front of it. Creative staging by director Kyler Taustin fully utilized the set and the outdoor space.
The cast of twelve each portrayed their character with various degrees of understanding, charisma, emotional depth and strength. As a whole, they had wonderful chemistry with one another and did a nice job making the story understandable for the audience. The cast includes Isa Braun as the conniving Queen, Kai Tshikosi as King Cymbeline, Jamie Davenport as Imogen’s servant Helene, and Sydney Lynn Stachyra as Roman Ambassador to Britain Caius Lucius. Cymbeline’s daughter Imogen was dynamically played by Austyn Davis who wonderfully displayed both the strength and vulnerability of her character. She was able to fervently dismiss advances from Cloten and Iachimo and later, in her grief-stricken state, beg Pisanio to kill her. Her love, Posthumus, was played by Felix Teich who was convincingly heartbroken by news he receives from Iachimo that his wife has been unfaithful to him. His sadness quickly turns to anger when he orders Pisanio to kill her; a request he later regrets. Teich and Davis, though they spent much of the play apart, had a believable connection that had the audience rooting for their marriage to survive the chaos that surrounded it. Pisanio, who was at times conflicted about his loyalties to Imogen and Posthumus, was strongly portrayed by Will Madden. Even when he was held at knife point and forced to serve Cloten, Pisanio’s loyalties to Imogen and Posthumus held fast. Pisanio was a man who undoubtedly wanted to do what was right and Madden clearly portrayed this quality in his performance.
Cymbeline’s long-lost sons were played by Ben Heath as Guiderius and Marc Pierre as Arviragus.
They were believable as brothers as they were both playful and protective of each other. Belarius, the British nobleman who was banished by Cymbeline and who kidnapped the King’s infant sons, was portrayed Cameron Scott. Scott played Belarius as a fierce leader, hunter and protector. His strong, deep voice fit his character well. Cloten, as played by James Wechsler, was full of himself and his only power was that he was good with his sword. He used this power to intimidate and control others. Wechsler’s characterizations were fantastic and completely unexpected. He was at times amusing, for instance as in his early morning wake-up song that he sang for Imogen, while at other times he came across as a terrible person and very sleazy. Ben Heath and Marc Pierre, who also performed as Cloten’s servants, had comical facial expressions during his early morning song to Imogen and their musical accompaniment was nicely done. Chris Olmsted as Iachimo delivered a remarkable performance with intelligent choices and characterizations. He clearly understands the text as if Shakespeare was his first language. Notably in act one, Iachimo says, “I am the master of my speeches” and I think the statement applies not only to Iachimo but Olmsted himself. He was suave and charming as he tried to woo Imogen and quick on his feet playing it off as a misunderstanding when she turned him down.
Highlights of the performance were the quick swordplay and fight choreography by Ben Heath. The swordfight between Heath and Wechsler was very well done and the full cast battles were exciting to watch. Another highlight is the original music by Andrew Paul Jackson for “Fear no more the heat o’ the sun” that featured three part harmony performed by Pierre, Heath and Scott during the burial scene in act four. The new tune was haunting and dark and fit well with Shakespeare’s lyrics. ©
Cymbeline is being performed at a variety of locations in and around Boston through August 28th and then plays at a number of locations in Delmarva September 2nd -18th. The play runs 2 hours with no intermission. These are free performances with donations always welcome. For more information, specific performance locations and times visit www.brownboxtheatre.org.
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