Chaon Cross, Shanesia Davis and Larry Yando ( from left ) in Cymbeline, a thoroughly engaging and rollicking piece of theater. Photo courtesy of Chicago Shakespeare Theater.
There are just too many Shakespearean echoes of other plays going on in Cymbeline to make it one of the Bard's truly great works.
You want a death/sleep magic potion just like in Romeo and Juliet? Or how long-lost royal children raised as peasants like in The Winter's Tale? And who could forget the cross-dressing heroine like in Twelfth Night and As You Like It? Shakespeare rams each of these wildly coincidental plot devices into Cymbeline. Oh yeah, there's also a bloody war with a happy ending!
Despite Cymbeline's lack of credibility, that doesn't mean that the sprawling Shakespearean problem play is beyond salvageable. Chicago Shakespeare Theater artistic director Barbara Gaines shows once again that she can transform Cymbeline into a thoroughly engaging and rollicking piece of theater.
This is Gaines' third time successfully tackling Shakespeare's problem play, but her first in Chicago Shakespeare's glorious Navy Pier home. Gaines production celebrates Cymbeline for the glorious and tangential melodrama that it is and makes it a must-see simply more so than the fact that it's so rarely produced.
Gaines' production isn't afraid to laugh at the outrageousness of the play itself. The actors play the emotions loosely, but also for real as well. That balance easily sweeps you away into the world of Shakespeare's improbable fairy tale.
Gaines wisely keeps Michael Philippi's sets a void of black to highlight the actors who sparkle in Susan E. Mickey's colorful and sparkly costumes.
Though the play's title is named after the angry and initially deceived King Cymbeline ( Larry
Yando being quite regal ) , the play jumps around in focus giving a slew of minor character meaty dramatic moments.
Shanesia Davis is delicious as the evil stepmother Queen, playing her as if a no-nonsense Disney villainess. Brian Sills gets plenty of laughs as her vainglorious and haughty son Cloten, providing plenty of comic relief when sparring with his back-talking servants, played wryly by Jeff Parker and William Dick.
Chaon Cross is lovely and witty as the defiant princess Imogen, paired with beefy pretty boy Joe Sikora as her exiled husband Posthumus. As the lascivious Roman Iachimo who tests Imogen's fidelity to her husband, an equally beefy Juan Chioran oozes with slimy villainy that is wonderfully over the top. Chioran's sneaky seduction of a sleeping Imogen is a highlight.
Dennis Kelly's gruff Belarius ( the banished ex-soldier who kidnaps and raises the king's long-lost sons ) , is right on the mark. Derrick Trumbly and Stephen Louis Grush are respectable as the savage-yet-still noble princes Arviragus and Guiderius.
Even if you if you find yourself constantly checking off retreads of previous Shakespearean plays in Cymbeline, you'll still have plenty of fun in Chicago Shakespeare's colorful and campy production.
At: Chicago Shakespeare Theater, 800 E. Grand, Phone: 312-595-5600, $54-$70. Through Nov. 11