Review: Fiasco's Cymbeline

                                   IMOGEN
             O Posthumus! alas,
             Where is thy head? where's that? Ay me!
             where's that?

Cymbeline is possibly Shakespeare's most ridiculous romantic comedy.  The plot:
  • a wager on whether a lady would cheat on her man
  • two princes in exile unaware of their heritage
  • a queen who poisons people with what turns out to be Juliet-style sleeping potion
  • a headless corpse mistaken for a loved one because his clothes are so similar
  • and your standard woman-dressed-as-a-boy bit.
It comes across as a series of one-acts layered end-to-end; the last scene of Cymbeline has seventeen "discoveries" alone.

So the fact that Fiasco Theater's fantastic production of Cymbeline manages it all so effortlessly is to be commended, and that's before I note that the 15 characters in this play are portrayed by 6 fantastic actors.  Actually, the doubling of cast only serves to strengthen a show where characters pop out of nowhere or suddenly disappear for large swaths of time.  Also helpful is Fiasco's acknowledgement and deep understanding of how flawed the play is, while still remaining respectful of Shakespeare.  Fiasco does this Shakespearean Comedy as a comedy: not as an over-the-top production, but finding the humor in taking it seriously.

For example: in the scene with Imogen finding a decapitated body dressed in her lover's clothes, she goes into this whole panicked speech about him that Fiasco's audience cannot but help to laugh at from the start for the situation's absurdity (complete with her insistence that she knows his body's shape).  Compare this to the needlessly weighty production I saw at Lincoln Center a few years back, where Imogen's speech was drawn out, heartfelt, then suddenly fell apart when her line "Where is thy head" caused laughter that felt unintended.  That production's finale with its endless string of "reveals" also caused smatterings of nervous laughter that the onstage cast seemed almost surprised by.  Whereas in Fiasco's production, the cast revels in the hilarity of such convenient loose-end-tying.  Perhaps five more minutes could have been cut from Act One, but that's the closest I have to any real criticism.  See, I usually prefer to my Shakespearean comedies to lie comfortably in actual comedy, and Fiasco does this as well as the best Shakespearean comedies I have seen.

It is a goal in my life to see one fantastic satisfying production of each of Shakespeare's plays, and then be done with all future productions of that play.  
  • King Lear with Ian McKellen
  • Twelfth Night in Central Park with Anne Hathaway
  • Aquila Theater's Comedy of Errors
  • The Royal Shakespeare Company's Hamlet
  • The Bridge Project's Winter's Tale
  • Public Lab's Timon of Athens
and now, Fiasco Theater's Cymbeline. 

Which is great, because it is a rather silly play.

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