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“Cymbeline”

Yale Repertory Theatre

 

Yale Repertory Theatre is currently presenting a good looking, sporadically well-acted, but ultimately muddled production of Shakespeare’s play “Cymbeline.”  Stretching nearly three hours, including an intermission, this show eventually wears out its welcome and can feel somewhat interminable.  It is hard to know who is most at fault.  “Cymbeline” is a relatively little produced Shakespeare work, and, judging by the Yale Repertory Theatre production, one can see why.  Some of the blame must go to director Evan Yionoulis.  In a play where one of the lead characters cross-dresses to hide her identity, having so many of the actresses playing male characters and one key actor playing a female character tend to make things more than a bit confusing.  This is not to say, however, that there aren’t some virtues in this “Cymbeline.”  Notably, a few of the leading performers manage to do fine work, and the show certainly looks great, but, in the grand scheme of things, the overall effect of the Yale Repertory Theatre production of “Cymbeline” is that of disappointment and overlength.

In such a misguided production, it is best to focus on the things that actually do work in this show.  When the audience enters the theatre, one is faced with an astounding, multi-leveled set that certainly looks inviting and, indeed, seems like it will be the perfect playground for the action of the play to take place on.  Jean Kim is the brilliant scenic designer and she deserves a good deal of the credit for offering hope throughout that the show will match her expertise.  Sadly, except for a handful of expert performances, the dramatics in “Cymbeline” never manage to ascend such heights.

In a large cast, the standouts are definitely the excellent Sheria Irving, as the princess Imogen, and Jeffrey Carlson, as Iachimo, one of the villains in the play.  Playing Imogen, Sheria Irving gives a sterling performance and she rivets attention throughout.  About midway through “Cymbeline,” there is a crucial moment when Imogen must take on a male disguise, and this actress manages to be just as irresistible passing herself off as a man as she is playing a princess.  Perhaps because I saw him do such fine work in both “The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?” and “Taboo” on Broadway over a decade ago, Jeffrey Carlson is of special interest to me, and he stands out as the conniving Iachimo.  This actor certainly possesses authority onstage and he reads Shakespeare’s lines with complete conviction and delicious mischief.

The rest of the cast, though, is not always on the same level as Sheria Irving and Jeffrey Carlson.  Faring best are Miriam A. Hyman as Posthumus, Imogen’s husband, and Christopher Geary as Cloten, Imogen’s devious brother.  Also, Michael Manuel wins laughs and offers much campy fun playing the Queen, but it’s not entirely clear whether such effects are in keeping with the true spirit of the play.  Kathryn Meisle does her best as Cymbeline, the King, but she doesn’t bring as much majesty to this character as is needed.  The rest of the company do what they can, but, too often, the overall muddiness of the production gets in their way.

“Cymbeline” may be a stronger work than it seems in this Yale Repertory Theatre staging, but that is hard to judge under the circumstances.  I suppose director Evan Yionoulis is most at fault for letting interest lag throughout the show, culminating in a long finale scene, where all the story ties are sewn up, that feels endless.  This large scale production of “Cymbeline” may be of curiosity to some Shakespeare fanatics, but the results are ultimately too dispiriting and much too convoluted to hold one’s attention.

“Cymbeline” continues performances at the Yale Repertory Theatre in New Haven, CT through April 16, 2016.  For tickets, please visit www.yalerep.org or call the box office at 203-432-1234.

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