Appalachia, Bluegrass Music, the Civil War, and Shakespeare? Absolutely! David Rice’s new adaptation of Shakespeare’s lesser known tragicomedy Cymbeline, being premiered by the First Folio Theater, is original, delightful, and filled with musical energy. Set in 1863 West Virginia, Rice transforms Cymbeline into a modern comedy/tragedy/parody, with music, and tells the Bard’s tale in way that is decidedly rooted in American folklore. Rice and Michael Keefe (First Folio’s resident composer) wrote the music and lyrics for 10 original bluegrass styled songs, which are woven beautifully into the production. The music and lyrics are a clever way to frame the story, simplify many difficult passages, and help the audience understand the many twists and turns of the complex plot.
Cymbeline is a powerful story of love, romance, betrayal, and adventure. It contains all of the classic elements and characters that make Shakespeare’s works so defining and loved. It follows the odyssey of Princess Imogen (played by Kate McDermott), who secretly marries a commoner, Posthumus, (played by Matthew Keffer), without the approval of her father, Cymbeline, (played by John Milewski). Posthumus is banished by the King for his deed which sets the adventure into motion. Falsely accused of betraying her lover, Imogen must flee to the hills to escape her death. She disguises herself as a man and with the help of the shepherd Belarus (played by Ronald Keaton) and his two sons; she must prove her honesty and chastity, restore her good name and defeat her evil stepmother. There are also secondary plots, lost sons, sword fights (using shovels), and plenty of skullduggery. Ultimately, as in most of Shakespeare’s works, everything comes together at the end and the many truths are revealed.
This is a fine production with a large and capable cast, some of whom double-up and play instruments during the musical numbers. Andrew Behling plays the banjo as the wicked Queen’s comical and inept son Cloten and Skyler Schrempp plays the fiddle as the honest servant Pisania. James Earl Jones II provides his powerful baritone as the nefarious Iachimo and the Angel Gabriel. The rest of the performers include: Lia Mortenson as the Queen, Robert Tobin as General Lucius, Tyler Rich as Polydore, Ryan Czerwonko as Cadwal, and Victoria Blade as Cornelia. The ensemble of Kelly Elizabeth Baskin, Andrew Coil, Lauren Demerath, Michael Ferraro, Royen Kent, Kate LaConti, and Tyler Thompson add depth and their voices in support.
Michael Goldberg strongly directs Cymbeline and each scene smoothly transitions. He uses his actors effectively with just the right balance of humor and purposefulness. Appalachian accents are a fine touch that adds to the ambience. The authentic cabin set by Angela Weber Miller, the rich lighting by Michael McNamara, and the true-to-the-period costumes by designer Rachel Lambert give the audience the feeling of being in the hills of Appalachia.
There is probably no better way to see Shakespeare than on a pleasant summer evening under the stars on the outdoor stage at the Mayslake Peabody Estate, 1717 W 31st St. Oak Brook. What a setting! Bring a blanket, lawn chairs, and have a picnic before the play.
The First Folio Production of “Cymbeline, A Folk Tale With Music” continues through July 21, on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 8:15PM at the Mayslake Peabody Estate. The show lasts about 2 ½ hours with one intermission. Tickets range from $30-$37 and can be purchased at 630-986-8067 or visit www.firstfolio.org. The grounds are lovely and there is plenty of free parking. To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to review round-up and click at “William Shakespeare’s Cymbeline,a Folk Tale With Music”