Why doesn’t anyone do “Cymbeline”? Watching it is like watching a Shakespeare buffet.
It has the romance of one of his tragedies, battle scenes like the histories, and comedy like the, uh, comedies. It also has gods, ghosts, cross-dressing, sleeping potions and long-lost siblings — in other words, everything your typical Shakespeare play is famous for.
And yet, if you’ve ever seen “Cymbeline,” chances are it was in 1988, when the Utah Shakespearean Festival last produced it. Thus, you should take advantage of the current opportunity and see this grandly entertaining production. Except for the most ardent of Shakespeare fans, seeing “Cymbeline” is like seeing a brand-new play.
The plot is infamous for being too dense, but it boils down to one major thread: Posthumus receives a false report that his beloved wife Imogen has been unfaithful. Subplots abound, but they are given much less stage time than this central idea. It is not hard to follow.
The role of Posthumus is played by USF’s best comic actor, Brian Vaughn. He does well with the dramatic stuff, too, but it is his comedy you will remember — especially in this play, where he is also cast as Cloten, the whining, spoiled mama’s boy whose mother is the wicked queen and who was promised HE could marry Imogen. I don’t know if it is common to cast the same actor in both roles, but when Vaughn is the actor in question, it is a brilliant move. One believes his heartbroken Posthumus as well as his fat-headed Cloten.
Imogen is Susan Shunk, who also plays Desdemona — another woman falsely accused of adultery — in “Othello.” It is she who disguises herself as a man when she goes in search of her husband, and her interaction with Polydore (Jason Michael Spelbring) and Cadwal (Matt Schwader) — two cave-dwelling Lost Boys — is highly amusing.
Their performances, too, are memorable, as is Shelby Davenport’s as their adoptive father. They do not appear until after intermission, but their influence permeates the action thereafter.
The final unraveling at the play’s end is hysterically funny, with each character learning something new that makes him want to throttle someone else. All’s well that ends well, though, and the crises that have emerged throughout the play are resolved somewhat peacefully, and they all live happily ever after. Director Russell Treyz has worked an overlooked Shakespearean fairy tale into the 2002 festival’s best offering.
Cymbeline sounds like a girl's name.
Also, it's a great role to have on your resume, because it's the title character. Never mind that he barely has any stage time; he's the TITLE CHARACTER.