Pasadena City College, CA ** Tuesday, June 2, 2009 ** English 78B ** Professor Bonilla
Cymbeline Opens the 2009
Repertory Season at
By: Patrick Covarrubias
On the last afternoon of May in Topanga, California, the celebrated Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum opened its 2009 Repertory Season with a performance of William Shakespeare’s romance Cymbeline, directed by Ellen Geer. Under Geer’s direction, one of Shakespeare’s final plays, written towards the end of his career, was brought to life with a sprawling and diverse cast of about thirty, including professional actors from the Actors’ Equity Association, a beautifully natural and rustic setting, and an aura of traditional Shakespearean theater and presentation.
The production was able to capture the wide range of genres that the play requires, as Shakespeare’s late romances have the most developed characters and complex plotlines. From the romantic plight of Imogen and Posthumus, and the wager that the mischievous Iachimo makes with Posthumus thus instigating the sequence of events, to the cautionary tale of the ambition of the Queen and her son Cloten, to the story about the ignorance and arrogance of King Cymbeline, it is clear that Shakespeare reprises his earlier themes in plays, and the production translates this undoubtedly.
Always tinged with humor, the mood of the play is helped with the cast of many characters that capture the devious and manic energy so written. Even when some of the more difficult language spoken by the actors was lost on the unprepared audiences’ ears, the actions and feelings of the words spoken by actors helped to convey the deeper connotations of tragedy, comedy, mischief, malevolence, and triumph.
The most stunning aspect of the Theatricum’s main stage is definitely the outdoor amphitheater, with the various trees, gardens, and hills serving as the natural background for the stage of Cymbeline. The naturalistic setting allows for very beautiful and pastoral scenes that are traditional in Shakespeare’s plays and themes. The set and staging areas were able to capture the natural lighting of a late spring’s afternoon, and aside from the appropriately chosen music played through unnoticeable and strategically hidden speakers, the atmosphere of both the Theatricum and Cymbeline was idyllic.
The highlight of the play is during the final act, in which a live battle takes place between the more rough-around-the-edges British and the more refined and ordered Romans. As Posthumus is passionately lamenting his betrayal of Imogen, the two opposing
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armies enter slowly from opposite ends of the stage, building tension, until a very energetic fight between natural and ordered, barbarian versus civilized. The hills behind and around the stage allow the action to reach from far away to right in front of you. The intimate 299-seat amphitheater is transported to a time early in Britain’s history, complete with fitting musical choices and detailed costuming.
Standout performances are Thad and Willow Geer (pictured) as Cymbeline and his daughter Imogen, who evoke a relationship similar to that of King Lear and Cordelia. Aaron Hendry’s hilarious and crowd-pleasing portrayal of Iachimo is a lighthearted take on the potentially malicious role, because he responsible for much of the grief in this play. An interesting and well-received directorial choice was to cast two women in male roles: Earnestine Philips and Samara Frame as Belarious and Arviragus, respectively. The association and addition of femininity augments the value of the themes of kinship and the “simple country life” in juxtaposition to the devious and overly ambitious ways of the city. Much like the setting of the theater itself suggests, the feeling one walks away with is that it is probably better to get out of the city more often, in order to appreciate humanity among nature, rather than against it.
Driving through the winding highway of Topanga Canyon on an early Sunday afternoon, one would hardly take notice of the Theatricum Botanicum’s entrance, hidden among the trees and hills just north of Santa Monica. Upon entering, it feels like walking through a secret hideaway, almost like entering the enchanted forests of A Midsummer Nights’ Dream. The gardens of the area attract butterflies and hummingbirds that just may be Shakespearean faeries, and an easy-going and peaceful attitude is hard not to catch. The Theatricum Botanicum, created by Will Geer as a safe-haven for actors and performers that were blacklisted during the McCarthy Era, and the concealed grounds convey a feeling of escape from the everyday. It is one of the most enjoyable ways to see a live production of Shakespeare.
Cymbeline runs every Sunday at 3:30 PM, until September 27th. Also running this season in repertory are Julius Caesar, opening June 6th at 8:00 PM, The Cherry Orchard on June 27th, A Midsummer Night’s Dream on July 4th, and The Miser on July 25th. Ticket prices range from $10 to $30, with discounts available for seniors, students, Veterans, and children under 12.
Box Office: (310) 455-3723
1419 N. Topanga Cyn. Blvd., Topanga, CA