You'd think a play featuring a freshly decapitated head, a cross-dressing young woman, battle scenes, mystical chemical concoctions, skullduggery, two long-lost sons and murder plots would be one of Shakespeare's most popular pieces.
But no, Cymbeline is a rarely produced work, probably because of the large cast and the storyline that thrashes about in the weeds of random subplots even more than a lot of Will's complicated treasures. Then, there are the forced coincidences and death-defying last minute expositions. Ah, well, Hamlet it ain't.
Undaunted, the Ohio Shakespeare Festival takes it all on with their usual boisterous glee, and they mostly come up a winner. The talented actors bring out the music of the language (and there is plenty of that), while director Terry Burgler directs traffic and clarifies scenes with his usual craftsman's touch.
At an estimated run time of more than three hours with one intermission, Cymbeline has a lot going on. The run time is estimated because, on this night, the battle scenes were not performed, but summarized by Burgler. This was due to rain that slickened the outdoor stage and would have endangered actors swinging various types of warrior hardware.
The storyline is complex: When his first wife died, King of Britain Cymbeline had three kids to take care of: his daughter Imogen and two sons. However, the boys are kidnapped by the banished Lord Belarius and raised as his own.
His queen also has a son by her first marriage. That offspring is now 20-something and a mean-spirited twit. But she wants her baby boy, Cloten, to marry lovely Imogen and seal the family's royal status. But Imogen has run off and married Posthumus (no, he isn't dead yet), a proud and handsome gentleman.
One of the highlights of this production is Geoff Knox as Cloten, portraying this dolt as not only arrogant and ignorant, but entirely arrogant about his own ignorance. He is hilarious and it's too bad he's the one who later loses his head, quite literally.
Meanwhile, Posthumus has booked to Rome where he meets Iachimo (a sly and sleazy Andrew Cruse) and brags on his wife back in Britain. Iachimo is unimpressed and bets Posthumus he can seduce Imogen. But when he goes to Britain and tries to ply Imogen with his powerful Italian man musk, Imogen is unmoved.
Undeterred, Iachimo hides in Imogen's bedroom trunk and steals her bracelet, using that to prove to Posthumus that he bedded the Brit's wife. This enrages Posthumus and he sends word to his servant Pisanio to murder the "unfaithful" Imogen.
All that, and we haven't even arrived at the joyous reunion of Cymbeline and his two now-grown sons, Imogen dressed as a page to avoid the wrath of the queen, and—oh, yeah—the war between the Roman Empire and Britain (supposedly in full armor, the mind reels).
Tess Burgler makes a pretty and spirited Imogen, finding many places to cop a chuckle while playing out the drama of this resourceful woman. In the less clearly defined role of Posthumus, Bernard Bygott uses his intensity to fine effect whether in the throes of love or beset by jealous demons.
As the two kidnapped boys, now grown up to be rough-hewn mountaineers, Andrew Gombass and Joe Pine are amusing as they gravitate to the disguised Imogen, not realizing they are related and royalty. The king and queen are rendered by Timothy Champion and Holly Humes with polished pontification.
Not counting the missing battle scenes, there are some stumbles in the second half of this production. Director Burgler, playing Belarius, and Charles Cover as the physician Cornelius bobble a bunch of lines trying to describe some serious issues. And some smaller roles are handled a bit too casually.
But everything turns out happy in the end, true to a Shakespeare romance. And that's a good thing, since you're not likely to see this one again for quite a while.