Cymbeline: Shockingly Terrible—Theatre

There’s no good way to say this: the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s Cymbeline is a mess. Miscast, shockingly acted in the negative and poorly conceived and directed, this whole production is completely unworthy of the Company.

Some of the problem is the play itself–it’s all over the place. Part tragedy, part comedy, part romance…Cymbeline ultimately fails at all three. For the theatergoer, it’s like watching at least three plays at once…nothing weaves seamlessly together. 

In order for Cymbeline to work, it’s heavily dependent upon excellent, believable acting. This production of Cymbeline does not have that. But thankfully it does have four good performances– Gretchen Hall as Imogen, Cymbeline’s daughter and Michael Rudko as Morgan,  Justin Badger as Polydore and  Alex Morf as Cadwal, father and sons respectively. Over the course of 2 hours and 20 minutes, these are the only actors who actually act and are right for their parts. Gretchen Hall is wonderful as the wronged daughter and wife, but there is only so much she can do. When Morgan and his two sons enter the play and interact with Imogen we finally feel as if the clouds have parted and the light of good acting has entered.

At the beginning of the play, when we learn that Imogen has sacrificed the love of her father to marry Posthumus, we expect there to be a good reason for such devotion.  Then we see and hear Posthumus, performed by Mark Bedard.  Him? This is your great love? This pipsqueak of a man with a tinny voice?  This role is so miscast it detracts from the entire play. Equally wrong for his role is Leo Marks as Cloten, one of the play’s villains and son of the Queen. Marks plays his part for cheap, easy laughs. The only shtick he doesn’t use is the twirling of his mustache. And what to make of veteran actors Ted Van Griethuysen as Cymbeline and Franchelle Stewart Dorn as the Queen?  Van Griethuysen seems to have phoned in his performance and Stewart Dorn is just painfully awful. Finally, what have they done with Andrew Long? This terrific actor would have been wonderful as either Posthumus or Cloten. He could have elevated Cymbeline to something special. Instead Long is relegated to an insignificant part as ambassador Caius Lucius. He does what he can with this role, but comparatively speaking, it’s still an insignificant part.

It’s hard to know what to say about the directing of Rebecca Bayla Taichman. The insertion of the Vespa from out of nowhere pretty much says it all.

I can’t remember when I’ve been this disappointed on so many levels in a Shakespeare Theatre Company production. Enough said.

Lansburgh Theatre

450 7th Street NW, Washington, DC 20004

Runs January 18 2011—March 06 2011

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