California Lutheran University’s Theatre Arts Dept
141 Memorial Parkway, Thousand Oaks, CA
November 9 –19, 2017
Any theatre producer or director will tell you that a little preparation goes a long way: aAny advantage a staff can give their actors is time well-spent. Sometimes, that credo spills over to audiences as well.
CLU is well-known for making Shakespeare accessible to contemporary audiences, whether through their annual Kingsmen Shakespeare Festival or in cases such as their newest offering, Shakespeare’s latter work Cymbeline. Director Michael J. Arndt provides audiences with a clever tool from the get-go: the program contains a synopsis of the show’s major plot points. Rather than act as spoiler alerts, audiences are instead given the opportunity to quickly browse a valuable reference of who’s who that cleverly aides their journey through Cymbeline’s action.
Costume designer Noelle Raffy pairs well with Arndt’s vision for Cymbeline, employing simple yet distinct touches that aide the viewers grasp of the show’s characters as they careen through the script’s twists and turns. The dress of Princess Imogen (Danika Elvine) is a memorable blend of muted cornflower blue and Claret, just the kind of colors afforded a princess that would set her apart from commoners of the time. And when the First Lord played by Jordan Erickson emerges, his character is set off with a brilliant red velvet coat and memorable shock of blonde hair that works well to distinguish him throughout.
Cymbeline’s’ plot gets thick early when Imogen’s husband Posthumus (Francisco Hermosillo III) takes part in a hot dice game. Here, a feisty Italian named Iachimo (sharply played by Christian Lipps) brags that he can shake Posthumus’ confidence in his wife Imogen’s fidelity. Iachimo stows himself in a trunk until she’s asleep, then steps out to gather the kind of personal knowledge (and a little physical evidence) that can convince Posthumus that his faithful wife is indeed a strumpet.
To allow the action to unfold smoothly, set designer Andrea Heilman has chosen to keep things simple. Three essential, jagged arches move easily in place to imply scenery rather than complicate Arndt’s stage. When Belarius (Mario Grandos) and his two children (Bridget De Maria and Jonathan Irwin) emerge from their cave one brilliant morning, their dwelling is implied through those three arches stacked in just such a way, aided only by light sound effects and, of course, Shakespeare’s language. The dedication to simplicity frees the audience to follow the language and story – and the actors to deliver it. Technical director Josh Clabaugh has adapted a series of ramps leading away from the foot of the stage, allowing the cast to enter/exit handily around the audience. The result is that theatre-goers may feel as if they’re not just witnessing the performance but, to a degree, living within it.
And as anyone who appreciates Shakespeare will admit, what would usually be a fairly dry read on the page becomes a whole different affair when performed. A show such as Cymbeline is a true measure of an actor’s skill and a host of outstanding performances add another critical dimension to CLU’s production. Notable are Anna De Maria’s Queen of Britain, who commands the stage with a fluidity and a withering look capable of striking fear into the hearts of servants and audiences alike. Equally commanding are her King, played with an adept range by Chris Clyne, and Kyle Poppert, who plays the Queen’s jilted son Cloten. Poppert and his First Lord (Erickson) provide equal parts intrigue and comic relief, particularly Poppert, whose take is a perfect balance of narcissism and the dastardly anger of a slighted suitor. The booming voice of Mayhar Mirzazadeh’s Roman General will have audiences worried of his impending invasion and Dylan Iannolo plays Pisanio with a surprising and impressive blend of personal confidant and stout private body guard.
The production of Cymbeline is further aided by a gentle soundtrack devised by Chris Hoag, a modern device which helps engage Arndt’s audiences and keeps things moving. In a particular scene when Iachimo emerges from the his hiding place in Imogen’s bedroom, a few quick beats of a dark tone lets us know that the bad guy is on the prowl. The soundtrack is a nice addition and tastefully highlights the action.
As a latter work of Shakespeare’s, Cymbeline could be described as an almost epic, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink kind of production. There is room enough here for such gentle phrases as “society is no comfort to one not sociable” as well as an epic and climactic battle scene that rages onstage and off. Audiences will find themselves surrounded by the grunting and charging and swinging of metal swords and shields in an orgy of hand-to-hand stage combat, yet in the end, all the show’s secret affairs will unfurl in a clear and audience-friendly conclusion. All’s well that ends well, and in Cymbeline, all is indeed well.