There’s an old Latin saying.
“Aestivo Tempori est Shakespeare!”
Roughly translated: There’s no better time to watch Shakespeare than in the summertime!
I don’t know when summer became so connected to the Bad Bard of Avon, but there’s no denying that the moment the weather gets nice, along comes a troupe of iambic-pentameter talking actors to put on a little something by good old William S.
This coming weekend, Railroad Square’s Shakespeare in the Cannery will open “Twelfth Night,” and next month will bring productions of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” to Guerneville, and “The Taming of the Shrew” to Mill Valley.
Since they are amongst Shakespeare’s better-known shows, there’s a pretty good chance what you see and hear with these productions will be more-or-less what Shakespeare wrote, because there’s an unwritten rule about Shakespeare: If you’re going to mess around with the Bard, you will get less blowback if you pick a play that nobody knows.
Which brings us to William Shakespeare’s “Cymbeline,” landing with a gleeful-giddy splash last weekend in San Rafael’s Forest Meadows Amphitheatre at Dominican University.
“Cymbeline,” one of Shakespeare’s final works as a playwright, is rarely ever performed, despite the fact that it’s one of the playwright’s most complexly plotted, entertaining, surprise-packed, and satisfying plays – all of which made it very popular, you know, in the olden days. But modern critics tend to turn their noses up at it, as they do anything Shakespeare wrote for the sheer happy hell of it – which is more-or-less what “Cymbeline” feels like.
As that other old Latin saying goes:
Prolixior est unum rabidus fabula.
Meaning: “This is one crazy play!”
There’s a woman disguised as a boy.
An aging ruler losing his kingdom and his sanity.
A soldier convincing a married man his wife has been unfaithful.
And a magic potion that makes the living appear to be dead.
And that’s just for starters.
“Cymbeline” carries so many plot ideas reminiscent of Shakespeare’s other plays, it sometimes seems like a cross between a deliberate self-parody and a career retrospective.
The play is named for the crazy English king Cymbeline, but the true heroine of the story is his daughter Imogen, played with brilliant simplicity and sweetness by Stella Heath. Having P.O.’d her papa by refusing to marry the obnoxiously self-loving prince Cloten -a hilarious Thomas Gorrebeeck – instead marrying the lowly Roman orphan Leonatus Posthumus – also Gorrebeeck, a quick-change artist of the highest order – Imogen becomes the target of her duplicitous stepmother, the queen, and also the subject of a certain test-of-fidelity on the part of Posthumus.
Falsely accused of fooling around, she ends up on the run, dressed in drag, with wacky old Cloten in pursuit, and that’s where a pair of kidnapped princes raised as mountain men enter the story.
Like I said, Crazy!
And in this light-hearted production, director Robert Currier keeps things frisking along, tackling the problem of the play’s complexity by inserting a few original songs in place of Shakespeare’s text, and adding a few lines of his own here and there to clear things up and explain what’s going on.
I’d have preferred the more classic approach of simply directing the play in a way that makes it understandable to the audience, but hey! It’s sort of fun and it kind of works. And since very few audience members will have seen “Cymbeline” before, it’s likely no one will know the difference.
“Cymbeline” runs Friday–Sunday through July 26 at Forest Meadows Amphitheater at Dominican University. www.marinshakespeare.org
And as they say in Latin . . .
Ego sum David Templeton, Second Row Center, enim KRCB.